(Posted February 10, 2001)
First off, let me just get out of the way that I think most technology is very poorly designed and difficult for people to use. I agree with an awful lot of what Donald Norman, Edward Tufte, Brenda Laurel, Bruce Tognazzini, Dave Winer, Steve Wozniak, and Steve Jobs have to say about usability; and I believe that a vast improvement in that is necessary to unlock the amazing potential to use technology to do so much more than it is used for today.
I am an optimistic futurist, though I'm also a cynic with a realpolitik understanding of how things really work.
And I'm here to say, technology sucks, it breaks all the time, and despite your best efforts, it will fail you when you least expect it and can't possibly tolerate it. (Jerry Pournelle says technology can and does follow Murphy's Law so well because of a "critical need detector" which is built into everything you'll ever rely on.)
And you know what? DEAL WITH IT, PEOPLE!
I'm tired of hearing people whine about how "Oh, my computer is broken. Oh, I can't get on line. Oh, tech support won't answer my questions. Oh, my billing records got screwed up. Oh, my file was corrupted and my work is lost. Oh, my computer crashed and my work is lost. Oh, I can't figure out how to work this complicated software. Oh, my DSL connection (which gives me 1/2 the performance of a T1 at 1/40th the cost) is unreliable!"
DEAL WITH IT, PEOPLE!
Don't just WHINE about it. That won't do you any good. DEAL WITH IT. You KNOW this stuff is going to break on you. Think about how the stuff you need can break, and plan accordingly. You know it's hard to use.
So what should you do? RTFM! Look at the FAQ! Find a website dedicated to the problem or the solution! Experiment! Learn! Get real! You can't pick up a new instrument and make beautiful music without first learning how to play, practicing, listening to other good players. Technology is still enough of an art that the same blood, sweat, and tears is needed to produce great results.
And if it is important enough that you need it, have a backup (of the data, of the system, of the service).
If it is not important enough to go to the trouble to have a backup of, then don't complain when it's broken/gone/corrupted/unavailable.
Longer term, consider this when you are choosing what technology you are going to use. Consider it when you decide to start using new technology to accomplish something you are already doing. Don't just think about whether the technology is cheap, easy to set up, convenient. Reliability matters. Stability matters. Don't whine, do the work.
How hard is it going to be to get a backup in place? How hard will it be to activate the backup when you need it?
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This page updated February 10, 2001