Many years (decades?) ago, my father said to me:
The world is going to end, not with a bang, but because no one will know how to fix anything anymore.
I’m not going to to talk about the disposable society we live in — we don’t fix things, we buy new ones — but about how we don’t even understand how things work anymore. And, yes, this is important.
I remember reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy as a child. As was the case in the dying stages of Asimov’s Empire, we are becoming further divorced from understanding the technology we use. I think back to the “engineers” in the power plants, who had no idea how they operated. These engineers were now hereditary roles of caretakers for these power plants that ran themselves. When something did eventually break, they had no idea how to fix it.
If you have a car, you don’t have to understand internal combustion or anti-lock brakes. You take it to the service station, tell them a symptom, and (for the most part) they fix it. But at least you understand the “ecosystem” of the device. It has an engine and wheels. You put gas in the tank. You know how to steer it, accelerate and brake.
Simplifying The Complex
My mother was having problems with her iPhone. She took it to the Apple store where they told her she needed to “update her iTunes,” or that’s what she told me. They may have told her to update the iOS version, but that’s how she remembered it.
She had no idea that it was integrally connected to iTunes. What she had to do was install iTunes, connect to her “Apple” account, then plug her iPhone into the computer so she could use iTunes to install an iOS upgrade on he iPhone. Yeah, that’s intuitive. I got this text:
So here we have someone using a device who doesn’t even understand the ecosystem. She had purchased the iPhone and used it happily for 6 months without ever connecting it to a computer. Words like “operating system” and “software” don’t make sense to her. It isn’t even clear what the ecosystem is.
All’s Well That Ends Well
After she had many calls (Verizon, Apple), two trips to the Apple Store, and much stress, I received this triumphant text message from my mother:
Is there really anything else to say?