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.