What Makes Technology Quirks Acceptable

As a tech geek, I often observe various uses of technology, especially who is using them, how they’re using them, and why. One thing that I’ve noticed is that many people, typically over ~40, have trouble with technology, usually saying it’s confusing, when in reality, they simply don’t want to take 5 minutes to learn it. That’s another conversation though. What’s interesting today is that these consumers typically tolerate different levels of complexity for different technologies.

Case in point, my parents. They’re what I would call technologically literate, both having email accounts that they use, relatively advanced cell phones (my mom carries my old N95-3), and use the computer, have a home theatre system with large TV, etc. They also recently got a Roomba. If you don’t know, a Roomba is a robotic vaccuum cleaner that can be programmed to clean up at various times, etc. You can check it out here.

A few months ago, I tried to give my N95-3 to my dad. I did my best to set it up for him, so that he had very little to do, other than stick his SIM card in. After about a week, he politely informed me that he hated it, and found it really confusing to use. I know this has a level of internal perception, because he had no problems using the E71 previously, which uses the same version of Nokia’s S60 operating system. He thought it would be confusing, and so it was. In watching him try to use it, I noticed that his tolerance level for the phone was extremely low – if it didn’t do *exactly* what he wanted, with minimal effort, it was deemed too complicated, just like that.

Contrast this to the Roomba. He and my mom proudly displayed and demo’d it for Mrs. Guru and I a few weeks ago, telling how great it worked, and how they had to program it to say where to go, and when to run. They shared a few frustrations, such as the noise level, and how it got stuck sometimes. They had even named it (I don’t remember the name, but I do recall suggesting my mom paint on a housekeeper’s apron, lol).

Given the utility of the N95 and the Roomba, I’m fascinated at how they were willing to sit down and read the manual of the Roomba, but couldn’t be bothered to give the N95 more than 15-20 minutes to figure things out. As both my mom and my dad frequently call, text, send pictures, etc, it’s a no-brainer to see that they would get far more use from the N95 than the Roomba, which only accomplishes a single task (vaccuuming). So why does the lesser-used product get more attention?

Since noticing this, I’ve tried to observe my own habits, as well. I suppose I’m a bit more logically-thinking, but I will devote plenty of time to learning how to do things on my phone and getting it to function how I like, because I know it’s the single most often-used piece of technology that I have. Any thoughts as to why some technology is approached with more patience than others?

Published by rcadden

Just a dude with a phone.

4 thoughts on “What Makes Technology Quirks Acceptable

  1. You’re spot on, Ricky, and I always say this as well to my wife. People immediately think something is hard because it’s technical. Another case in point: wiring a stereo or game console. It is brain-dead simple. Nowadays, cables are color-coded, and the wiring diagrams are clear. It’s also very logical. People can grasp “The leg bone’s connected to the hip bone”, but can’t grasp “The DVD player is connected to the AV receiver”.

    I’m sure some of it is that we, as technical people, don’t get as tripped up, but I’ve seen exactly what you describe. It’s all about _perceived_ difficulty rather than actual difficulty sometimes!

  2. You’re spot on, Ricky, and I always say this as well to my wife. People immediately think something is hard because it’s technical. Another case in point: wiring a stereo or game console. It is brain-dead simple. Nowadays, cables are color-coded, and the wiring diagrams are clear. It’s also very logical. People can grasp “The leg bone’s connected to the hip bone”, but can’t grasp “The DVD player is connected to the AV receiver”.

    I’m sure some of it is that we, as technical people, don’t get as tripped up, but I’ve seen exactly what you describe. It’s all about _perceived_ difficulty rather than actual difficulty sometimes!

  3. It has to do with how much you care about any given technology, in my opinion. Your perceptions of that technology, your fascination with it, your clarity in seeing how it will effect your life — these are all directly related to how much time you will spend learning it.

    Case in point, my mom is a whiz when it comes to computers. She’s been playing around with them in various ways since she got her first 80/86 back in the 80’s. She can write simple programs in BASIC (no mean feat for an over 60 year old), can troubleshoot problems with her computer — hell, she even got into learning the Linux command line after I installed Ubuntu on her laptop and gave her some basic instruction.

    My dad is a whiz with Excel — to the point where he wrote his own statistical analysis program for horse racing using Excel functions/macros, to a degree that I’d be hard pressed to duplicate. My dad has a degree in mechanical engineering, and when he was younger (he’s over 70 now), could swap the transmission in his old Chevy pickup in about an hour by himself, work any tool you gave him with proficiency, and has always designed and built his own furniture.

    Yet the two of them were at a loss on how to hook up their cable box from Comcast when the digital switch happened, and just went without TV until I came and spent 5 minutes hooking it up, and couldn’t for years figure out how to program the clock on their VCR.

    We all do this to a degree, regardless of age. Ricky you yourself spent some time with Ubuntu, then emailed me bitching about it because you didn’t want to spend the time necessary learning the command line to get it running ;).

    We prioritize technology of all kinds based on our perception of it and it’s impact on our lives. I couldn’t care less about programming, though I’m sure I’d be capable of at least the rudiments of it given my proficiency level with computers. I don’t care about all the ins and outs of the audiophile world of speakers ohms and cable resistance – I just want a stereo that sounds good.

    -olly

  4. It has to do with how much you care about any given technology, in my opinion. Your perceptions of that technology, your fascination with it, your clarity in seeing how it will effect your life — these are all directly related to how much time you will spend learning it.

    Case in point, my mom is a whiz when it comes to computers. She’s been playing around with them in various ways since she got her first 80/86 back in the 80’s. She can write simple programs in BASIC (no mean feat for an over 60 year old), can troubleshoot problems with her computer — hell, she even got into learning the Linux command line after I installed Ubuntu on her laptop and gave her some basic instruction.

    My dad is a whiz with Excel — to the point where he wrote his own statistical analysis program for horse racing using Excel functions/macros, to a degree that I’d be hard pressed to duplicate. My dad has a degree in mechanical engineering, and when he was younger (he’s over 70 now), could swap the transmission in his old Chevy pickup in about an hour by himself, work any tool you gave him with proficiency, and has always designed and built his own furniture.

    Yet the two of them were at a loss on how to hook up their cable box from Comcast when the digital switch happened, and just went without TV until I came and spent 5 minutes hooking it up, and couldn’t for years figure out how to program the clock on their VCR.

    We all do this to a degree, regardless of age. Ricky you yourself spent some time with Ubuntu, then emailed me bitching about it because you didn’t want to spend the time necessary learning the command line to get it running ;).

    We prioritize technology of all kinds based on our perception of it and it’s impact on our lives. I couldn’t care less about programming, though I’m sure I’d be capable of at least the rudiments of it given my proficiency level with computers. I don’t care about all the ins and outs of the audiophile world of speakers ohms and cable resistance – I just want a stereo that sounds good.

    -olly

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