Pet Peeves About Tech Talk

the word Rage in scary fire letters5I have a couple of pet peeves about the way people talk about the tech industry. When I say tech, I mean computers, cell phones, Internet stuff and pretty much anything that gets near a microprocessor. Let me give a couple of examples of my pet peeves and I’ll wrap it together at the end.

There’s a lot of effort being expended on how to effectively bring technology into the schools. There are so many well-intentioned programs that have failed where grants are acquired, computers or tablets purchased, the devices given to the teachers … and then nothing extraordinary happens. Smart people have worked really hard to come up with ways to introduce technology but often the dream isn’t realized. Many people blame the teachers, saying that the students know more than them about the technology and that the only solution is for the teachers to age out.

It makes me CRAZY when I hear that phrase. It’s such an arrogance of youth to think that the younger generation won’t also be out of touch with new technology in 10-20 years! I know there was a significant bend in the technology curve here in the last 20 years, but the rate of change certainly not slowing down. So when today’s teachers age out, which I’m pretty sure is just a euphemism for “die off”, they’ll be followed by another generation that is behind the kids and maybe even MORE behind. Perhaps it’s because I’m an old fart this bothers me so much but this view seems to be very short sighted.

There’s another place that I hear similar things and that’s about how the U.S Patent Office just doesn’t understand technology. Why do we think our particular subject is so unique that it alone befuddles the Patent office? I’m pretty sure there are an awful lot of complex subjects with patents, perhaps way more complex than the tech stuff we understand. Think about it, do the patent people easily grasp all of the details behind metallurgy? nuclear physics? radar systems? electro-optics? non-linear structural dynamics? Why do we think technology is so special? Maybe the every day life of a hard working person at the Patent Office is filled with a giant list of insanely complex subjects to try to assess and technology is just another one in that long list.

Here’s another one. We’ve all been twitterpated lately about Net Neutrality and watching closely the moves of the FCC in the US about it. I hear over and over again how bad it is that Tom Wheeler, current Chairman of the FCC is a former lobbyist for the cable industry. Well now wait a minute. On the one hand we’re angry that the patent lawyers aren’t computer scientists that understand the intricate details of technology, but if we have someone in the FCC who is intimately familiar with how the Internet and cable industry works then that’s a bad thing too? Sure it would be nice if the person wasn’t on the other side of the argument from the common man, but if we had someone in there who was only a common man or woman, wouldn’t we be complaining about how they didn’t know diddly squat about the subject? By the way, I read his bio, and he was president of the NCTA (National Cable Television Association) until 1984 … THIRTY YEARS ago. Since then he’s been a venture capitalist investing in early stage IP-based companies. But heck, we wouldn’t want someone with that level of understanding to be working on regulation, would we?

You know I love technology but this attitude that it’s so much more special than any other expertise really diminishes the value of what non-geeks know. I see it every day in real life. Someone will say to me, “Oh, I’m a really dummy about technology.” I want to shake them and make them stop talking like that! I may be good at tech but guess what? I can’t figure out how to get my stupid lime tree to give me fruit for my gin and tonics! You know what else? I can’t clean a carburetor. Heck, I probably couldn’t identify one. I can’t rewire a house. I don’t know how a Monte Carlo analysis works in calculating rates of return on investment. Do I walk around feeling less useful because I don’t know these things? Heck no, I just depend on other people to know it. Unfortunately because tech is becoming so pervasive, those who don’t have a geek bent are feeling like they’re less valuable because of it, and part of the problem is the way we talk about tech.

When I got started on this rant I wasn’t sure where it was going but I think my message is this. Tech is cool and it’s fun, but don’t think it’s any more special than what non-geeks know.

8 thoughts on “Pet Peeves About Tech Talk

  1. Barry Porter - July 8, 2014

    It’s the fault of mechanical engineers 🙂 :)(he says while ducking). Seriously, people have become jaded by tech and some are overwhelmed by its pace. It would help if they got more kids and adults interested in amateur radio. HAMs have been in the forefront of experimenting that has led to many of today’s tech advances (Woz was a ham), and I think it is cool to talk ½ way around the world thru a real satellite.

  2. Allister - July 8, 2014

    Well said.

    A couple of data points – out of my sons (nearly 20) and my parents (in their 70s) who has the greater grasp of technology? Not my sons.

    Sure, they learn to use technology quickly, but they don’t understand it as much. Ignoring my father’s recent descent into the ravages of Parkinson’s disease, he was a technology pioneer. He spearheaded the use of technology in our home and in his work. I fondly remember the projects we worked on together which ranged from devising a simple menu system on a PC to building our own power supply for a floppy drive* or pushing a text file to an electronic typewriter and having it fully justify the text on a page. My son asked me the other day “What’s the system drive?” when his iMovie project came to a grinding halt. It was full.

    In other words, age has NOTHING to do with it. It’s all about attitude and aptitude.

    The problem many people have with technology is they’re scared of the magic. Let me tell you – as someone who’s been quite deep down this rabbit hole – I really wish it WAS magic, but it’s not! It’s just hard work. Same kind of hard work required to figure out how your car actually works and how to fix it. Same kind of hard work to figure out how to take a bunch of fresh ingredients and deliver an amazing dish to the table. I could go on.

    You are absolutely correct, Allison. Technology is not special.

    *Like all disciplines, failure is most certainly an option. If you want to know what happens when a very large capacitor over-charges, I can tell you it’s not fun. A room evacuation occurred. 🙂

  3. Allister - July 8, 2014

    I forgot to add – if it wasn’t for my father’s thirst for technology in his 40s, I probably wouldn’t be working in tech. Now I’m in my 40s I can’t get my sons to take a deep interest in it.

  4. Kevin - July 8, 2014

    I think the issue here is in using the word “understand”! The youth of today are growing up knowing how to USE technology – they inherently understand how to follow a UI and to use an application or any hardware with a chip and a screen! BUT understanding is very different from using! They don’t necessarily learn to code and hence don’t understand logic, they don’t learn about the infrastructure that makes an item or system work. To this end they are effectively no more advanced than the older population.

    At 47 I did not grow up with computers being all pervasive, but I taught myself to code starting at age 13 and eventually learned 5 languages – it’s really not hard but takes time and effort (although 6809 assembly was a bitch!) – I now have no need to do it and leave it to the pros but I make sure I understand enough to be able be systematic in diagnosing faults when they occur (being a physician does help). My mother is 72 and loves her computer – started on Windows Vista and eventually forced by me to a MacBook pro last year. She is slower to learn things but is perfectly capable when she puts her mind to it.

    Age, therefore, is not the issue! It is training and experience that counts. To be expert at anything takes about 10,000 hours of practice and only the young have that much time – IF AND ONLY IF they can be bothered to put in the effort!

  5. Jim Sewell - July 9, 2014

    Allison, you forgot perhaps your biggest peeve when talking about technology! I hesitate to mention it but since you are on the topic and we are putting everything cards up on the table I have to remind you of people saying “It’s so easy even my mother can do it”. Talk about widening the perceived technology gap between generations! I know that one really upsets you, and rightly so, and this list wouldn’t be complete without it.

  6. Richard - July 13, 2014

    Oh – what a rant ! – I’m 84 and I’ve been a high school teacher and a tech. the question should not be about understanding the technology – its simply a matter of understanding the application of it. We all drive powerful motor vehicles these days but how many understand what is happening under the hood ? We learned to drive – we drive. So its a matter of teaching teachers HOW to use the technology and the ADVANTAGES to them. Also you have to overcome FEAR and UNCERTAINTY. (Will this make me redundant ?) a very natural response which must be dealt with in the early stages. Its all very well to rant and rage Allison that may get it off your chest but the solution to the problem is to educate the educators.

  7. podfeet - July 13, 2014

    Richard – Thanks for the point of view! Would love to talk to you more about this. I am certain that educating the educators is essential, imagine if they hadn’t been taught about the new countries with the Soviet Union broke apart? There does seem to be resistance by a fair number of teachers (anecdotal stories by a young teacher friend of mine) which points to what you said above about fear and uncertainty. Will this disappear when they “age out” though? Because the next wave of cool holograms and those darn flying cars we’ve been waiting for will be next, right? I sure don’t know the answer here, but I wanted to get people to think about answers other than waiting for people to die off!

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