Monday, September 28, 2009

Thinking Inside the Box

I've noticed, over and over, that there is a big difference between people who work in a technology field, such as computers and those who are consumers. By 'consumer' I mean anyone who is not interested in how something works or who doesn't really put a lot of thought into the details of a device. They just want to use it. You know, the vast majority of the population. I've listened to a lot of people who write and opine on technology and I'm struck so often by how out of touch they can often be from the mass of consumers.

For example, I was listening to a podcast that featured one of the more well known names in the world of Apple's technology, Ted Landau. He has spent decades writing about Apple's computers and other products, in general, and Macintosh troubleshooting extensively. He and the host were discussing the new iPod Nano, that now has a built in video camera. Landau was speaking about how so many ordinary phones nowadays have built in video, so why would the video in an iPod Nano be a big selling point? It's a good example of someone 'in the know' who has analyzed this from the tech point of view, but completely missed the consumer view. However, I don't think video is standard on a majority of phones on the market right now, much less the majority of those currently in use. But in the world he moves in most often, where he's surrounded by techie types who often have the latest gadgets, I'm sure he sees video on phones all the time. Hence, it must be on most people's phones, right?.  But I suspect the reality is that the vast majority of cell phone users don't have video on their phones. Not to mention the percentage who may have it, but don't remember/know that they have it.  Also, lets not forget that many consumers only use their phones as just a phone. He is also completely forgetting the 'Want' factor. Consumers often buy things, not because they need it, but because they just want it. Because it's new or cool. Remember, if everyone only bought what they needed, our economy would be a fraction the size it is. America, and all market driven nations, derive their wealth from 'Want' not 'Need'.

Another example are the proponents of Linux or Unix based computers. Those who live in the world of Linux can't understand why everyone isn't using that operating system on their home computers. They see all the benefits, such as the operating system being essentially free, all the low cost and free software and the fact that you aren't locked into a proprietary system like Windows or Macintosh. (Apple's OS X operating system is actually built on a Unix foundation and can run many Unix/Linux based apps. Though the graphical interface and such wrapped around that foundation is proprietary.) They like to tout how many months and years their systems go without having to reboot. Impressive as these things are, they completely ignore the consumer. They're thinking like the people they are, knowledgeable and tech-savvy. They ignore the reality that is the other 80% or more of the population. Yes, the operating system is essentially free, but it's no easy thing for Joe Consumer to install and setup. Yeah, you can download all kinds of applications, free of charge. But again, you have to know what you're doing or follow very detailed instructions to install and configure them. These are things that seem like no-brainers to those in the Linux/Unix world, but not at all to those outside it.

I've run into this myself during my tenure in the desktop/network support arena. I sometimes had to give myself a quick reality check when I made assumptions on what was obvious and what was not. I've certainly found myself thinking that a particular client 'should' know a certain piece of information. And perhaps they should, but my expectations often have little in common with reality. So I generally run my conversations through a buffer, in a manner of speaking, and do a quick edit for jargon, acronyms and the like. Kind of weird to have the live edit running in the background, but seems to work. Also have to remember when setting computers up or working on them in general that many things that seem normal for me to do, just confuse the average user or cause them problems.

The bottom line is that Techies, and those in a similar positions, have to occasionally take several steps back and look at things from the consumer viewpoint. They need to remember that many, probably most, lack much of their specialist knowledge. Knowledge that gives them an unbalanced view of what the rest of the world may know or think. And this applies not just to tech fields, but any profession really. From desktop support to politician, lawyer, doctor, electrician, carpenter, among others. It's not about thinking down to someone else's level, it's about thinking outside your own box. In these cases, more often than not, the problem is yours in assuming, not theirs in understanding. Just something to think about the next time you're wondering why someone would want 'X' item or doesn't understand 'Y' instruction.

1 comment:

  1. My doctor talks to me like I have a medical degree and seems quite surprised to find that I don't understand everything is she is talking about.
    I can't help but think of Hollywood as well. They are so insular that they have lost touch with their audiences.
    Good reminder that we are part of a whole, not just the microcosm in which we live. But you know, as I write this, it makes me realize that all trouble seems to stem from forgetting our connection to others...whether we choose our zip code, church, job, race, gender, whatever as our world. This kind of reality is a farce.


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