This article is part of Technology Newsletter. You can Register here to receive it weekdays.
I’m sorry for sounding like a tough old man. But I would go to Andy Rooney in full and complain about gadgets and technology that – no matter how well-intentioned – seem to be neglecting ordinary people.
It bothers me to ask: Who is technology made for? Technology isn’t just for nerds anymore, but companies often act as if it is.
Amazon and Apple argued a few weeks ago over “lossless” audio files. I don’t know what they are either. Those are high-quality digital songs that are indistinguishable from the regular versions by most people. Likewise, the latest features in smartphone software sound smart, but I wonder how many people will take advantage of them and tailor iMessage notifications to their bosses. One of Apple’s newest features is for about 18 people who want to use the same keyboard to control iPad and Mac at the same time.
Please don’t yell at me! I know that some people are passionately interested about things like this, and it makes sense for tech companies to cater to them. Companies are also constantly improving their products in ways that are appropriate for both the tech-savvy 1% and everyone else.
But I can’t help thinking that it would be better for tech companies and us if they focused more of their energy and marketing muscle on what’s important to 99% of people who use technology.
Smartphones are among the most popular products ever made in the market. What do many people want from their phones? Nice, simple interface, longer battery life, lower cost of devices and internet surfing, and better resistance to our clumsiness.
But the hot marketing ploy for smartphones in the United States is the ability to connect to 5G mobile internet networks, which most Americans can’t access and may not need for a long time.
When Apple spends all its TV commercials on having their phone fall in the toilet, you know that the industry is thinking 99%. (Yes, I know that a lot of phones have been built to be more water resistant, including bathroom cases.)
I love this list from The Verge in 2019 of all the things the tech industry thinks everyone knows but most humans don’t. Ordinary people don’t know how Facebook ads target them, why Bluetooth is so fragile (or what Bluetooth is), or whether they need to buy more storage space on their phone as Apple keeps going. bother them.
“It’s an important reminder of an important fact that I think the entire tech industry often forgets,” Nilay Patel wrote in that 2019 article. “Most people don’t know how things really work and have been hopelessly confused by the technology they have.”
Most people don’t have the time and brain space to care about anything other than the basics of using a phone, computer, TV, or other apps and necessities. And that’s perfectly fine and normal. What’s wrong is that the biggest and richest companies on the planet often fail to meet those needs.
Tech companies should continue to make great strides. But there doesn’t seem to be a balance between the new stuff and the things most people really need.
Tech companies should also stop pretending that the average human would dig into complicated privacy controls. That means kids monitors shouldn’t come with passwords that criminals can easily find online, and Amazon shouldn’t automatically turn everyone’s home devices into a shared internet. .
I don’t have a simple fix. Maybe tech companies should hire standards directors to make sure gadgets, apps, and software are needed and 99% usable.
It really is hard to make things easy and meet the needs of millions or billions of people. The first step is to remember that technology is supposed to be for everyone.