How many of you use a computer simply as a means to communicate with the world? How many of you know all the functions and what they’re useful for on your camera? Perhaps your answers are, I do and I don’t, to those two questions respectively. And why is that you may ask? Is it because you’re lazy and haven’t bothered figuring out? Is it too nerdy? Or maybe it’s because technology has scared you away with a bad past experience. It’s too ‘advanced’ and not reliable for the masses to use efficiently. Who honestly wants to read a 300 page operating manual for proper usage and care of a computer? You use it to talk on MSN or write a few emails and surf the net and that’s about it. Anything more would mean running the risk of messing something up.

Now it may be that you’re sending your piece of technology the wrong vibes:

Jinxed computer users might be sending out a bad vibe, researchers suggest

Or maybe it’s the fact that these high tech toys just aren’t properly made (yet) to be used by your regular Joe. In reality the fear of technology is either due to prior bad experiences or anecdotes of experiences passed from one person to the next. These less than stellar tales of the interaction between human and technology is the result of faults of both the product and the user.

In the manufacturing process, some units do come off the assembly line with defects. The manufacturing process must be ever so precise to guarantee a problem-free product. With everything technology shrinking in size, it only makes the job harder. Quality control must ferret out these defects, but any test can only be good for the duration of the test. There is always the possibility of future failures or breakdowns. Invariably, some of these defective parts do get out to the stores and we, as consumers, are ready to gobble them up. They cause some headaches, but for the most part, the defects that leak through QC labs are relatively few. So you shouldn’t worry that you may be buying a semi, or non functioning item.

Then there’s the question of software. Software, simplified, allows a user to interface with the hardware. You give ‘instructions’ which are interpreted by the software which then instructs the hardware to do a certain thing. Sometimes it is this software that causes the breakdown. Without proper software, hardware cannot function. For example, an MP3 player has a firmware, which is essentially what allows you to control the player. The buttons are merely a tactile way for you to interact with the firmware. Now say that firmware is buggy, meaning it has defects of its own. When you press play, there could be no response because the firmware isn’t relaying what your finger’s telling it to relay. So the hardware is working properly, but isn’t receiving any or the proper instructions. So it is often recommended by manufacturers to update your software on a regular basis to fix problems that were present. I’m sure you’ve all undergone the fun and joy of updating your Windows operating system.

Not all software is easy to use. In fact, that large majority is quite challenging to the average user. That’s why you see companies often market their products as ‘Easy to use’, ‘operates without special software’ or ‘great for beginners’. That market is the largest. It’s also why you see some products far more successful than others. Take a look at the iPod for example. It is pleasing to look at and has a very intuitive user interface. Anyone with a finger or two and some common sense should be able to use the player relatively well. The same cannot be said for many of the competing products. They lack the easy to use and polished interface. The buttons may not be arranged logically or what you think something should do actually doesn’t. Thus users tend to shy away from these complex things. Because if you don’t, you may feel like this:

If the product isn’t to blame, then we users must be the ones at fault, be it directly or indirectly. The Western Hemisphere is a very internet-driven society. Just about every medium class household will have a computer with some form of internet access. It has become a useful tool for us, be it for entertainment, study or whatever else suits your fancy. However, because of this, it is also a tool with which harm can be done. There are thousands if not millions of viruses, worms, trojans and other pieces of malicious code out there on the internet. While some are relatively harmless (displays a laughing face that says you’ve been infected), others can be very dangerous, sending out any banking information you may have on your computer or even help people steal your identity. It is through the internet that many of our problems arise.

A very interesting view of the internet was presented by a frustrated ISP worker who was tired of customers blaming the ISP when it was the user who did not know how to properly protect themselves on the internet. “I don’t walk into a hospital and start performing open heart surgery just because I bought a scalpel, why should someone be allowed on the Internet just because they bought a computer?” – James, SharkyForums. Those are the words of a somewhat exasperated person, but you know what he’s getting at. The internet can be dangerous. You can’t expect anyone else to protect you from those dangers. You have to take charge.

You can never be absolutely safe on the internet. The only way that would happen is if you didn’t go on the internet. The next best thing is to use up to date firewall and antivirus programs. The firewall blocks unauthorized people from your computer while the antivirus will clean any virus you may get from downloaded files/files from other computers. A spyware detector and remover application can also be very useful. It is because of the lack of knowledge on the part of the user that causes the quick and wide spreading of internet viruses and worms.

We all like to be intelligent, or at least appear that way. That’s why you’ll see someone randomly mess around with something they really don’t know much about instead of referring to an operating manual. Anyways, manuals are boring to read and it’s much more fun to just figure it out as you go right? Well that’s where many get caught. They do things without thinking or realizing the possible consequences. Thus they mess things up and then are quick to push blame from themselves. What better thing to blame than an inanimate object which can’t defend itself? So when the story gets told to the co-worker, friend or family member the next day, the events are often skewed to present it as though they did nothing wrong and it was all the computer/camera/mp3 player/[insert tech object here]’s fault. These stories scare others from unlocking the full abilities of technology. Eventually you get the mass paranoia of technology that exists. Any deviation from the basics would lead to certain trouble if the stories are to be believed.

To be sure, it’s not always the users fault but for the most part, unfortunately, it is. As in many things we do, our ignorance is our weakness. I usually read manuals before fiddling around too much but I’ve still run into the odd problem here or there. However, I realize that they’re localized occurrences. I don’t go running off, spreading tales left and right. So a big piece of advice, RTFM. And if you don’t know what that stands for, don’t even ask, or even better yet, go look in an acronym dictionary. Our society’s technophobia is due in small part to the products but in large part to our ignorance. It is our nature. But try to overcome it all and see if it really warrants your fear. Chances are you’ll be surprised by the untouched potential of the technology around you. Just remember, the tool is only as useful as the user makes it.


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