I Now Have A Cloud. All Is Well.

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.

Science Fact-tion

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?

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  • Nicely done. I can’t help but think of Clarke’s statement from 1961, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” and the fact that humans still have that instinct to hit something that doesn’t work (how often do we still see people tapping electronic devices like iPhones?). Perhaps what we’re really trying to do is tap a cloud?

  • Nicely crafted.

    I got sucked into Falling Skies last summer, and what really struck me was how disconnected people were because they no longer had access to any grid. It got me thinking about our reliance on technologies that most of us have no idea how to build or fix. I just have to hope that we’re smart enough to figure at least some of it out without instructions a Google click away.

  • Ivy Eisenberg

    Loved this! Thanks for sharing.

  • It’s a great story, both spooky and pertinent. Your father was right Alan.