wasting bandwidth since 1999

It Pays To Keep You Confused

On the surface, the second segment of 60 Minutes tonight was just another essay on the continuing complaint that our consumer technology has become so complicated that the average consumer is incapable of using it without help.

We are becoming slaves to our own technology — addicted to and dependent upon all sorts of beeping, flashing gadgetry that is supposed to make our lives easier.

But it has become so complicated to set up, program and fix, that most of us don’t know how to do it, giving rise to a multi-billion dollar service industry populated by the very people who used to be shunned in the high school cafeteria: geeks, like Robert Stephens.

In reality, this was nothing more than a 20 minute commercial for that “multi-billion dollar service industry” which has a vested interest in seeing that the controls, menus, and manuals keep it complicated.

Large stores like Best Buy (which owns Geek Squad, centerpiece of the 60 Minutes segment), could pressure manufacturers to make devices easier to use and to write decent manuals. But they really don’t want to “demystify” all this crap.

They also don’t want to educate their customers.

Rather than spending time to discuss their requirements, sales people are taught how to oversell the products, convincing people to buy far more power and features than they really need.

And when the buyer can’t figure out how to make everything work themselves, the stores are happy to sell them support packages.

On the other end of things, however, far too many consumers are more than willing to play the victim here, accepting the premise that everything is just too “techie” for them to understand.

They walk into the store intent on getting the most buttons and features they can afford, regardless of whether they need or can use them.

That’s the role the reporter Steve Kroft assumed in the story. Rather than challenging the concept that consumer electronics could be engineered to be easier to use, he played along with the idea that it’s hopeless and we need to pay someone for help instead.

Of course, there’s an upside to all this. I, as a tech trainer, will never be out of a job. Not rich, but never out of a job.

60 minutes, geek, technology


  1. Miguel Guhlin

    Teach ’em to fish…help them get started with Linux.


  2. Kelly Christopherson

    As someone who likes the tools with buttons, I find that it isn’t all that daunting. The big thing is that people “think” it’s hard. They have bought into the myth that only geeks can use most of this stuff. It’s really too bad because as time has passed it has actually become easier to do things and use the tools to create than it was. I think that most people remember that you had to know how to write code and know HTML and all that other stuff before you could even begin. Today, the average person can be highly creative with all the software apps available, especially with the explosion of the web2.0 apps that are, for the most part, free! Now, I’m not sure about Linux because I don’t use it but, if it is as easy to use as I’v heard, there is still greater freedom for users. However, whatever OS one chooses, this is a great time to be online. Too bad shows like “60 Minutes” just continue to perpetuate the myth and keep the masses in the dark. In some ways this is very medievalish in that you now need a computer shaman/druid to help you.

  3. Concerned geek

    Yes, Best Buy has control over the ease of use of computers. What rock have you been living under for the last 20 years? Do you really think that there is an **evil conspiracy** to keep electronics difficult to use, so that companies can continue to make the big bucks in services? Take off the tin-foil hat, buddy. The market (read: end-users with the power of the purse) has pushed for devices with ever-more functionality, at an ever-decreasing price. The average end-user is much more to blame, not wanting to spend more on something that may be easier to use (although I can’t stand them, a perfect example is the Mac computer…)

    Or maybe it is just a conspiracy to keep idiots..er…end-users in the dark about the technology they are “oversold..”

    Gimme a break.

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