That’s what one of my oldest friends said to me after I spent three hours reconnecting his home to the Internet after the December rains. But you know what? It IS that complicated. Like all of us, he’s been spoiled. We’ve come to expect simple answers to hugely complex problems. To things “just working.”
It’s probably human nature to prefer easy answers, even when those answers are bound to be wrong. Certainly no one ever got elected to public office by saying “that’s a very difficult question.” Well, maybe Bill Clinton. This is especially evident in the realm of technology, where opaque interfaces enable us to use intricate machinery without a moment’s thought.
The most familiar example is the automobile. Look at your dashboard — there’s literally nothing that really tells you what’s going on under the hood — except perhaps for the tachometer. And to tell the truth, that dial’s purpose is to make us feel like thrilling race car drivers instead of boring commuters. The information on the tachometer is not useful because we can’t imagine the complexity it represents. You probably know that when you’re driving down the highway and your tachometer is on the 3, that indicates 3000 RPMs. But what does THAT mean?
It means that about three feet away from us, all the hot metal under our hoods is spinning around at 50 times PER SECOND. Spark plugs are firing, gasoline is exploding inside the cylinders, 50 times every second, while we listen to the radio, eat a sandwich or beat on the steering wheel with drumsticks. And we don’t care. Because it “just works.” When it doesn’t work, we get mildly annoyed and take the car to a mechanic, who fixes it. Then we might get very annoyed at the bill. But we’re no closer to understanding what went wrong, or why.
I’m betting that I lost a few of you already. As a species, humans don’t like big numbers or complexity. We don’t process them well and are bad at internalizing them. When complex things don’t “just work” we get cranky because we don’t understand why.
Check back with me next week and we’ll talk about why your internet connection doesn’t work all the time, and why your cellphone provider is forever making promises they have no chance of keeping. And what you can do about it.
In the meantime, check out this website: www.freerice.com is an utterly addictive game. You’re presented with a vocabulary word, with four possible answers. Answer correctly, and FreeRice donates rice to the hungry around the world. The more words you get right, the harder they get and the more rice you give away per word. And it’s fun.
Scott Wyant is a 22 year Culver City resident and technology consultant to business and professional clients from the entertainment, design, engineering, architecture, manufacturing and hospitality industries. He’s fluent in Macintosh and PC, and welcomes your questions, comments, and suggestions. You can reach him at [email protected].