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The Dumbing Down of Technology: Demanding and Expecting Less of Consumers


Growing up, I had the opportunity to live during the final years of the tinkering era. “Some assembly required” was an understatement with Heath Kit electronic devices. The purchaser would receive a bunch of parts with assembly instructions and be expected to create a working device. It was the equivalent of cooking from scratch for electronics enthusiasts. As a result, masses of consumers unwittingly received an education in basic electronics. Radio Shack still sells Electronics Learning Lab kits. Their most popular comes with a manual that almost 100 pages. (PDF) The appeal of these kits is that they typically include parts that can make a wide variety of devices such as radios, light sensors, music synthesizers, and more.

In recent years, there has been a dumbing down of technology; at least the consumer-facing side of technology which has slowly become more simplistic. The stated goal of this simplification has been “ease of use.”

Windows 8 is a good example of this. The Windows 8 apps are designed to be full-screen; making visual multitasking impossible. There are no menus. Just the essentials of what you need to complete a task. It appears to be an operating system designed and optimized for easily distracted people who are unfamiliar with computers.

While our interactions with technology have become simplified, the underpinnings of technology have, of course, become smarter and more complex, but those complexities are in the control of only a few high-level programmers, systems engineers, and product developers.

The pre-production power elite are the only ones who really understand technology and guide its growth. The rest of us (consumers and support people alike) are simply those who support their empire.

Consider the increasing number of devices that have a sticker on them stating, “Do not open! No user serviceable parts.” This says something about how the designers view the end users. The sticker might as well say, “You’re too stupid to understand anything inside this box, so don’t even open it up.” Some manufacturers, like Apple, are known for making systems difficult to open by designing them like a Japanese puzzle box.

Of course, as devices become smaller, even if they could be opened, the components would be too small to be seen or handled by humans.

By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com