That's A Lot Of Non-Working Technology

from the stuff-breaks dept

The latest study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project says that while plenty of people are buying new gadgets and technology, an awful lot of them are having trouble getting or keeping it working. According to the survey, 48% said they need others' help in setting up new devices. Additionally, plenty of folks noted that when their stuff broke, it was a pain to fix it. In fact, 15% of people said they just gave up and left devices not working when they had troubles. While some may see this as an opportunity for various "home geek services" operations, it seems more like an alarm for the consumer electronics and technology industries that they have to start making stuff that isn't so confusing to set up and use.


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  1.  
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    Liam Potter, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 3:02am

    It's not confusing to set up

    Basically, as long as you are not an idiot you can set it up.
    From my experience as being the go to guy with family and friends it's usually down to the person thinking they can't understand it, so they don't even really give it a go.

    Which in turn makes them give up on trying to understand.

     

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  2.  
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    Liam Potter, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 3:04am

    I forgot to add, we need to stop catering to morons, the easier you make it, the stupider/oblivious/[insert you own adjective] they can stay.

     

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  3.  
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    ECA (profile), Nov 18th, 2008 @ 3:22am

    I have to ask..

    Does this include the $0.50 capacitor thats in the PHILLIPS DVD players that FAILS in 1 year??
    OR the Ipods that FAIL?? because of a battery you cant replace?
    OR trying to find a place that HAS PARTS, to fix this GARBAGE..
    A DVD player that costs MORE to repair then to THROW AWAY...
    An MP3 player that you COULDNT FIND PARTS for in the first place?
    A LCD display thats DEAD/obsolete in LESS then 5 years??( I TOLD them to WAIT)..
    DVD PLAYERS with PLASTIC Laser lens..
    What happened to MODULAR REPAIR, and finding PARTS??

     

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  4.  
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    Gunnar, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 3:23am

    That seems low to me.

    When one of my gadgets stops working (through use -- if it breaks for no reason while under warrenty, customer service is getting a call), enough time has usually passed that I can get something twice as good for half the price.

     

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  5.  
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    Twinrova, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 3:59am

    I read this story using my Wii and the News channel.

    Funny, eh?

    Welcome to the world of disposable electronics, designed intentionally. Especially given the average lifespans of certain devices (2 years for a cell phone, 5 for a DVD player, etc)

    Add in the cost of repairs, and it's easy to see why they're disposable. It would cost more to fix it than it would to replace it.

    As for the survey regarding folks needing help, this isn't surprising either. As I've stated in other replies, software today is getting loaded with features most people won't even use, let alone even learn.

    The KISS method is no more in today's "fast moving" world. If one can't keep up, they'll forgo the technology.

    This is one of the reasons why I've challenged a need to put everything in "one place". Not only does it complicate things, it also tends to change from its initial specifics in time. Texting on a cell phone?

    At any rate, eventually technology will come to a slow and return to being simplified for users. It's done it before. It'll do it again.

    Oh, and to ECA: Finding "parts" isn't possible due to the corner market of component control. Another issue consumers know nothing about.

     

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    Sneeje, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 4:51am

    Re: I read this story using my Wii and the News channel.

    Actually, the features-driven approach has been in place since the early days of consumer electronics. The majority of people do not buy products on "ease-of-use" (intangible/subjective), they buy them based on features (tangible/objective). It is unfortunate, but as a result, companies sell their products based on features not usability.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 4:57am

    Dude... are you really posting this as news?

    Isn't this supposed to go in the "common knowledge dept"?

     

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  8.  
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    Lonnie E. Holder, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 5:35am

    Now Mike Knows...

    ...why we see all the jokes where the kids or the grandkids have to set up the VCR.

    With respect to Liam Potter's comments:

    Basically, as long as you are not an idiot you can set it up.

    I forgot to add, we need to stop catering to morons, the easier you make it, the stupider/oblivious/[insert you own adjective] they can stay.


    These comments were completely unnecessary and inappropriate. While Liam may be a technogeek, many people have minimal technical skills and increasing complexity means decreasing patience and ability to use.

    Everyone chooses what to do with their time, and a huge percentage of people do not choose how to figure out what "progressive" means with respect to their DVD player. These people essentially want to "plug-and-play." Why should a DVD/VHS player be any more difficult to use than a television? Instead, countless menus, most of which are never used, countless features in those menus, and after all that you are unable to get the television to work because you were unaware that you had to press "VCR" and then press "input."

    This post should also remind everyone why open source software has yet to have any significant penetration into the home computer market. The vast majority of people prefer what they know to something that they equate to computer geek.

     

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  9.  
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    Luci, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 6:03am

    Re: I have to ask..

    Modular circuitry has been replaced because it's far cheaper for the manufacturer to place all circuits on a single board. Unfortunately, that means replacing everything inside even if only a single piece on one circuit fails. Disposable electronics! They were the wave of the future. Now they're just as obsolete as the modular circuits they replaced.

     

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    jonnyq, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 6:31am

    Re: Now Mike Knows...

    You are talking about different things...

    Some people have an irrational fear of technology that keeps them from attempting to do something that's perfectly simple and intuitive. You're right that people don't need to know what "progressive" means, but that has nothing to do with plugging up the machine, which is as simple as plugging in color-coded wires or wires that only go into one hole one particular way.

    Too many menus? So what if a product has more menus than you use... if the menus you need are right in front and clearly labeled, then what's the problem.

    Programming a VCR before the days of on-screen menus was very difficult. Now it's much easier, but people fear the onscreen menus due to an irrational fear of technology and prefer to stick with nonintuitive button mashing.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 7:16am

    Re: It's not confusing to set up

    /disagree
    I frequently find myself declaring: "But I ~am~ the rocket scientist (Electrical and Computer Engineer, too)--what do mortals do"?"
    The designers and manual writers are too close to their work and in their hubris believe theirs is the greatest thing ever, which leads them to forget two things:
    1. Their customers aren't intimately familiar with their intentions because they didn't live through the years of the design process.
    2. Unlike the designer, for the customer this item isn't the most important thing in their life.

    The problem isn't that the technology is too complicated, but that the instructions weren't tested on naive users.

     

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  12.  
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    Lonnie E. Holder, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 7:31am

    Re: Re: It's not confusing to set up

    AC:

    You hit the nail on the head precisely. All many customers want to do is attach, turn on, and start. No menus. No options. No programming. Nothing.

    jonnyq mentioned an irrational fear of technology and how easy and intuitive something actually is to use. However, these statements only apply if you consider technology to be an important part of your life. There are still a lot of people (remembering that about 25% of all households still do not have a PC, and that only abou 50% of all households have a PC that is relatively up-to-date) who still are unable to figure out the easy and intuitive way to program the clock on their DVD player.

    As for "easy and intuitive," I consider myself to have at least average technology skills, but I have a DVD/VCR that is new with a clock programming interface that basically sucks. If you neglect to hit the correct button (out of the 50 on the the remote) after programming the time, the time is not entered and you have to start from scratch. Even when you hit the correct button, there is no indication of whether the programming was done correctly until you return to the main menu. And this is a definition of "easy and intuitive"?

     

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    chris (profile), Nov 18th, 2008 @ 12:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: It's not confusing to set up

    You hit the nail on the head precisely. All many customers want to do is attach, turn on, and start. No menus. No options. No programming. Nothing.

    that's not the way the world works. here on earth if you want to do something you have to figure out how it's done. if you want to cook, you have to learn to cook. how come no one complains about that?

    there are plenty of devices and services that work out of the box: aol, the jitterbug cellular phone, the imac, the linksys router, the pong video game. they pretty much all suck.

    the microwavable frozen dinner is food you can cook without knowing how to cook. it also has all of the taste and nutrients of the box it came in.

    using a device from out of the box with it's default configuration is the same experience: it's a device you can operate with no understanding but it provides no customization (taste), little functionality (taste) and little if any security (nutrition).

    i haven't built a house or fixed a car because i don't know how. why isn't everyone railing against house and car technology as too difficult?

    did people in the 1700's complain about how tough horses were to use?

    information technology is how a lot of work gets done. if your work requires you to use a computer or a mobile phone, then it's your responsibility to know how to use those devices. professionals are required to keep pace with developments in their respective fields, that's why they are paid like professionals.

    if you are a consumer, then why would you pay money for something you can't use?

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 12:45pm

    For the life of me I cannot recall the last time I swung a hammer and got a BSOD.

    I have never had to re-install the "OS" for a pan on the stove.

    POTS were things I left at home. Hence, I did not annoy others outside my home with constant chatter.

    There was a time when I got exercise by leaving the couch and turning on the TV. Amazingly, the dial had numbers on it that did not need programming.

    I used high end SLRs that came with 20 page manuals, most of which were irrelevant. DSLRs come with an encyclopedia. BTW, my camera worked without a battery. Try doing that with the current crop.

    Electronic technology and the products it has spawned is remarkable, but somewhere along the way the KISS priciple has been tossed aside.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 12:46pm

    For the life of me I cannot recall the last time I swung a hammer and got a BSOD.

    I have never had to re-install the "OS" for a pan on the stove.

    POTS were things I left at home. Hence, I did not annoy others outside my home with constant chatter.

    There was a time when I got exercise by leaving the couch and turning on the TV. Amazingly, the dial had numbers on it that did not need programming.

    I used high end SLRs that came with 20 page manuals, most of which were irrelevant. DSLRs come with an encyclopedia. BTW, my camera worked without a battery. Try doing that with the current crop.

    Electronic technology and the products it has spawned is remarkable, but somewhere along the way the KISS priciple has been tossed aside.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Rekrul, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 1:37pm

    These comments were completely unnecessary and inappropriate. While Liam may be a technogeek, many people have minimal technical skills and increasing complexity means decreasing patience and ability to use.

    I usually try to be diplomatic and take people's feelings into account, but right now I think I'll just post what I'm really thinking;

    When it comes to technology, most people are as dumb as a post. Normally intelligent people suddenly lose the ability to read and follow step by step instructions. They sit staring at clearly labelled options on the screen with their mouth hanging open, and then select the option least likely to do what they want.

    Out of all the VCRs, TVs and DVD players I've used, I think there were a grand total of maybe two where the instructions in the manual weren't clear to anyone with half a brain.

    Everyone chooses what to do with their time, and a huge percentage of people do not choose how to figure out what "progressive" means with respect to their DVD player. These people essentially want to "plug-and-play."

    What gets me are the people who want their computers to be "plug-and-play". I'm not talking about connecting the components, I'm talking about people who buy a computer thinking that it's going to come with a 5-page manual that will show them how to use it within the first hour. They're buying a device that can be programmed to do virtually anything and they expect it to be like using a cell phone. The sad thing is that most of these people never install any additional software or take advantage of 90% of what a computer can do.

    I knew a woman who bought a computer because she figured it would be easy to use. When she learned that she'd actually have to learn how to use it, she literally never used it. It just sat there gathering dust.

    Why should a DVD/VHS player be any more difficult to use than a television? Instead, countless menus, most of which are never used, countless features in those menus, and after all that you are unable to get the television to work because you were unaware that you had to press "VCR" and then press "input."

    On the other hand, when there are less features, the product ends up disappointing some of the buyers because it won't work the way they want it to.

    Case in point; My friend has a portable DVD player that has only two modes for the screen, widescreen and full screen. If you select widescreen, it stretches everything you view to completely fill the screen, regardless of the original aspect ratio. If you select full screen, it preserves the aspect ratio, but blocks off the sides of the screen, so that image appears in a small window in the center of the screen. I would never be happy with such a player. I think it should fit the width or the height (whichever is reached first). My friend is happy ith it the way it is and would dislike it if it properly letterboxed the image (he hates letterboxing).

    My non-portable DVD player has options to stretch the image, like his portable, only fit the width or height, show full screen, etc.

    As for "easy and intuitive," I consider myself to have at least average technology skills, but I have a DVD/VCR that is new with a clock programming interface that basically sucks. If you neglect to hit the correct button (out of the 50 on the the remote) after programming the time, the time is not entered and you have to start from scratch. Even when you hit the correct button, there is no indication of whether the programming was done correctly until you return to the main menu. And this is a definition of "easy and intuitive"?

    There's a difference between an interface that sucks and someone not being able to follow clear directions. I agree that the procedure you describe is not easy or intuitive, but I assume that if you correctly follow the steps in the manual, it does work, correct? Many people today are incapable of following even much simpler instructions.

     

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  17.  
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    Lonnie E. Holder, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 2:48pm

    Re:

    Rekrul:

    When it comes to technology, most people are as dumb as a post. Normally intelligent people suddenly lose the ability to read and follow step by step instructions. They sit staring at clearly labelled options on the screen with their mouth hanging open, and then select the option least likely to do what they want.

    lol...I am unsure of whether I want to laugh or cry. Yes, I sometimes feel like you do. On the other hand, some people just never bothered to learn how to reset the clock on their coffee maker, so they have to push the "ON" button in the morning. I am unsure of how the simplest technology can be that intimidating, but for some people, it is. Even people whom I consider to have significant intelligence (i.e., more than me) can be bamboozled by the simplest of technologies. On the other hand, if it is not important to you...

    The sad thing is that most of these people never install any additional software or take advantage of 90% of what a computer can do.

    I was trying to remember what I had installed on my computers. At first I was thinking nothing, and then I remembered this exception and that exception and suddenly I realized that I had installed a lot on all my computers (I think I am on #4 now). But, I think you are correct. Many people buy a computer who do almost nothing with it once they get it.

    I knew a woman who bought a computer because she figured it would be easy to use. When she learned that she'd actually have to learn how to use it, she literally never used it. It just sat there gathering dust.

    Now we know where used computers come from.

    On the other hand, when there are less features, the product ends up disappointing some of the buyers because it won't work the way they want it to.

    Though I provided a mini-diatribe against the pecularities of one DVD/VHS player I own (the other one is relatively easy to use and program), I agree that I personally like many of the features on my DVD/VHS players. I am not so big on the screen expansion feature that you mentioned because my televisions already have that feature, but if they did not, it would be nice to have on the player.

    Some DVD/VCR players use a basic menu and advanced menu modes. I prefer those. Most people will use the basic menus most of the time. Those people with special interests or needs can access the advanced menus. Now, if only everyone would do that.

    There's a difference between an interface that sucks and someone not being able to follow clear directions. I agree that the procedure you describe is not easy or intuitive, but I assume that if you correctly follow the steps in the manual, it does work, correct?

    Yes. The manual is a joy to behold. Anything that needs accomplished requires a minimum of a half dozen steps. Then there are the complicated activities... Whoever designed this mechanism was trying to figure out the hardest way to accomplish any particular task.

    Many people today are incapable of following even much simpler instructions.

    It is amazing how even seemingly thick manuals are actually two pages of simple instructions surrounded by 10 pages of warnings and translations of the same information into four other languages. That does make the manual appear more intimidating that it actually is.

    Some people just can't seem to be bothered with reading critical information, like how to actually drive or maintain their cars.

    So much information, so little knowledge.

    Regardless, I no longer criticize the technically challenged. They have chosen to live their lives without understanding what a dimmer switch is and what it does (along with ice makers, microwaves, and thermostats). However, they may know how to make furniture, build houses, and grow beautiful flowers and I struggle with those activities. To each his own.

     

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  18.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Nov 18th, 2008 @ 4:16pm

    You Get What You Pay For

    You get complicated, feature-ridden gadgets with incomprehensible manuals because that's what sells. When was the last time you asked to see the instruction book before buying something? (I have.) The punters seem to go by what looks good in the shop, as opposed to what works well at home.

    On the other hand, there is one complicated, expensive gadget that everybody buys and can at least use in a semi-competent fashion--the motorcar. Could that be because there are strict Government regulations that require you to demonstrate a minimal degree of competence before you're allowed to operate one?

    Would the same approach work with other gadgets, I wonder?

     

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  19.  
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    Rekrul, Nov 19th, 2008 @ 7:38pm

    Lonnie E. Holder: (Trying out your quoting method, which I think looks nicer than the blockquote option)

    Even people whom I consider to have significant intelligence (i.e., more than me) can be bamboozled by the simplest of technologies. On the other hand, if it is not important to you...

    I once had someone ask me how to create columns in a particular word processing program. I told him to go to the Document menu, select Layout and then put a "2" in the box marked "Columns". When he didn't like the way columns worked (he wanted the text to go across the columns, not down each one), he then asked how to change it back to normal!

    I was trying to remember what I had installed on my computers. At first I was thinking nothing, and then I remembered this exception and that exception and suddenly I realized that I had installed a lot on all my computers (I think I am on #4 now). But, I think you are correct. Many people buy a computer who do almost nothing with it once they get it.

    I've got Total Commander (first thing I run when I boot the system), Firefox, Thunderbird, 3-4 different Usenet programs, various media players and video related programs, P2P clients, a couple fancier text editors to replace Notepad, various small utility programs, archivers, viewers for different file types, and a couple different emulators, not to mention all the games I've installed and uninstalled over the years.

    Though I provided a mini-diatribe against the pecularities of one DVD/VHS player I own (the other one is relatively easy to use and program), I agree that I personally like many of the features on my DVD/VHS players. I am not so big on the screen expansion feature that you mentioned because my televisions already have that feature, but if they did not, it would be nice to have on the player.

    I only have a simple, fairly featureless CRT TV. To be honest, I don't really like LCD screens. My nice, 19" CRT monitor died today and I'm dreading getting a new one (I'm using an old junk one I brought home from bulk trash pickup right now) because all the stores seem to carry are LCD ones. I dislike the way they have a fixed resolution and often can't keep up with fast motion.

    Yes. The manual is a joy to behold. Anything that needs accomplished requires a minimum of a half dozen steps. Then there are the complicated activities... Whoever designed this mechanism was trying to figure out the hardest way to accomplish any particular task.

    Sounds like it was designed by a Unix programmer. :)

    Regardless, I no longer criticize the technically challenged. They have chosen to live their lives without understanding what a dimmer switch is and what it does (along with ice makers, microwaves, and thermostats). However, they may know how to make furniture, build houses, and grow beautiful flowers and I struggle with those activities. To each his own.

    There's a difference though, between not being good at something and not understanding how to do it at all. I'm not exactly a gourmet cook. When I'm not throwing TV dinners in the oven, my idea of "cooking" is to toss whatever it is in a frying pan and put it on medium until it turns brown. However, if I have a recipe for something fancier, I can usually end up with something fairly edible.

    When it comes to technology, I don't always know what to do. Often I'll have no idea how to do something and have to read the manual. Like a recipe, I just follow the steps.

     

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  20.  
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    Lonnie E. Holder, Nov 20th, 2008 @ 5:21am

    Re: Technology

    Pretty much what you said... 8o)

     

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