Why Grown-Ups Have Difficulty With Technology

I can’t remember the first time I read a user’s manual. Certainly not with a toaster or refrigerator. Not even with my first new car. With my first (or ninth) television set? I don’t think so. I suppose it was with my first computer. Computers, as my friend Seth Godin said, are designed to make smart people feel stupid. And boy, do they ever.

I have a really profound memory of trying to hook up my first modem. An acoustic coupler device (remember them) about the size of a shoebox. There were about 80 pages in the manual, but here were the words that stopped me dead in my tracks: Adjusting the DIP switches. Huh? What the heck was a DIP switch. Dipshit I understood. But DIP switch. Nah. Fortunately I had a friend who was (a) a geek even way back then and (b) relished the thought of coming over to my place and spending several hours on a Saturday afternoon helping me adjust my DIP switches.

As the technology, especially computer technology, got more sophisticated I think they outsourced the writing of user’s manuals to a country where English was not a spoken language. And then they sent all the instructions to places for translation into English where, again, English was not a spoken language. But, since I only purchased a new computer every couple of years, I could count on finding a geeky friend who would, again, give me several Saturday hours to help me get connected.

This week I purchased what appeared to be the ultimate in simplicity. A desk top radio that connects through the internet and is pre-programmed to receive all the NPR stations in the country. Perfect. Except the instructions were again written in whatever non-English speaking country used to do all those computer manuals. It’s not a big users manual, and it even comes with a “how to get started really, really fast” sheets. But…no such luck.

So $149 later it’s still sitting on a shelf next to my wireless router. It told me that the clock would reset to the right time once it was connected to the internet. But it’s reading 12:41am and my wristwatch (analog) tells me it’s 7:40pm. And I don’t know any geeks anymore who are willing to give me several Saturday hours to get this working. Maybe one will drop in for a drink. I hope so.

So that’s why grown-ups have such difficulty with technology. We expect it to be simple, straightforward. But it never is. Quelle triste.