Sunday, June 13, 2021

Tech forgets the needs of the 99%

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I apologize for sounding like a grumpy old man. But I’m going to perfect Andy Rooney and complain about devices and technology that – even if well-intentioned – forget the common man.

I ask: for whom was technology made? Technology is no longer just for nerds, but businesses often act as if they are.

Amazon en appeal has in a spat a few weeks ago about “lossless” audio files. I also did not know what it was. These are high quality digital songs that most people can not distinguish from ordinary versions. Similarly, the latest features in smartphone software sound smart, but I wonder how many people will take advantage of it and customize iMessage notifications for their boss. One of Apple’s latest features is for the approximately 18 people who want to use the same keyboard to control an iPad and Mac at the same time.

Please do not shout at me! I know some people are passionate about about such things, and it makes sense for technology companies to provide for them. Companies are also constantly improving their products in ways that are relevant to both the technological 1 percent and to everyone.

But I can not help thinking that it would be better for technology companies and us if they focus more of their energy and marketing muscle on the 99 percent of people who use technology.

Smartphones are one of the most mass-produced products ever made. What do many people want from their phone? A cool look, simplicity, longer battery life, low internet and surfing costs, and better resistance to our clumsiness.

But the best marketing campaign for smartphones in the United States was their ability to connect to 5G Internet networks, which most Americans do not have access to and which they have not needed at all for a long time.

When Apple dedicates all its TV commercials to dropping phones in restrooms, you know the industry is thinking of the 99 percent. (Yes, I know many phones are water resistant, including bathrooms.)

I loved this list from The Verge in 2019 of all the things the technology industry accepts that everyone knows but most people do not. Normal people do not know how Facebook ads are targeted at them, why Bluetooth is so shaky (or what Bluetooth is) and whether they should buy extra storage space on their phones as Apple is constantly bothering them.

“This is an important reminder of an important fact, I think the whole technology industry is constantly forgetting,” Nilay Patel wrote in the 2019 article. “Most people have no idea how something works, and are already hopelessly confused by the technology they have.”

Most people do not have the time and brain space to bother with anything other than the basics of using their phone, computer, television set or other essentials and programs. And that’s totally OK and normal. What is not right is that the largest and richest companies on the planet often do not meet those needs.

Technology companies need to keep moving forward. But the balance seems to be between the new, wow things, and what most people actually need.

Technical companies must also stop pretending that normal people are going to investigate complicated privacy controls. This may mean that baby protectors should not come with passwords that criminals can easily find online, and Amazon should not automatically turn people’s home devices into a shared Internet network.

I do not have a simple solution. Maybe technology companies should hire chief executives to make sure that devices, programs, and software are needed for the 99 percent and that they are usable.

It really is difficult to make things easy and to cater to the needs of millions or billions of people. The first step is to remember that technology is supposed to be for everyone.

Nation World News Desk
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