200811181201Ars Technica has a jaunty little piece that puts hard numbers to the statement, “computers are confusing when it comes time to fixing them!” Something to take away from it is that “almost half of adults said they needed someone to help them set up or learn how to use their gadgets.” This says a few things:

  1. Gadgets are way too complicated in many cases – sometimes people just want a phone, not a phone/mp3 player/web browser/GPS device.
  2. Gadgets are generally becoming less and less elegant – companies should take a page from Apple’s book, and start thinking about design aethetics while they are actually developing their technology.
  3. Gadget ‘protections’, especially those intended to mitigate surveillance and privacy concerns, are too deeply hidden. The GPS should come ‘off’ on a phone by default, with a clear set of instructions of how to turn it on appearing when you activate the device. At the same time, devices should have their instructions and information about functions of the phone within easy reach when using it – design a nice, easy way for people to ‘learn more’ about a feature without requiring a data plan to go online.
  4. People are buying things that they haven’t done much research one – this is a no-brainer; if they had spent time researching the gadget, they likely wouldn’t be having such a hard time understanding how it works.

So what do I take away from this? It is just another confirmation that consumers, far from being ’empowered’ by all of the features from their electronic toys, are in fact being disempowered by the technological sophistication of modern electronics and the incredibly poor methods that the industry has taken to teach people. I read, and so a manual is something that is helpful to me, but I’m (at this point) an aberrant. New times call for new methods of guiding people through the items that they’re purchasing.