Plug-n-Play and the Dumbing Down of America

As a whole, Americans are not keen to learn about computer technology. If you are proficient in multiple platforms, an amateur or professional coder, or a network admin (present or former), I think you know what I mean. Someone recently commented to me, “Boy, would I be happy to work in an organization where I wasn’t the CFO’s personal tech assistant.” That is sad. Even at the upper echelons of Corporate America, people just don’t understand, or want to understand, computing. They would rather let someone else do it for them. In other words, they are lazy, and laziness is going to hurt.

Some say “I don’t have time for that stuff.” Well, they had time to learn how to drive their fancy new car, program time, date, and content settings on their TIVO, and plug in that new Xbox (just be careful with the plug…!) But they don’t seem to want to learn anything about the next device to become a staple consumer product in our increasingly connected world, the personal computer.

It is not all their fault.

I was always fairly proficient with Windows. I could do a few more things than the next guy, like set up a home network. But I soon found that was peanuts. Windows and its ubiquitous Plug-N-Play made things too easy. I never thought about the ramifications of that ease, things like bloated hard drives full of drivers I would never need, and admin permissions that let every piece of voyeur-ware through.

The present stupidity crisis is Microsoft’s fault, and it is also the users’ fault. Microsoft wants things to be easy, and users don’t want to learn. This is a dangerous combination that has ramifications beyond stolen credit card numbers. Not only are individual identities being stolen (and being solely blamed on technology), but the US’s identity as the innovator, the core of scientific advances, is being stolen as well.

A few of us will survive. I started learning about Linux last year, and now I can maneuver the system with relative ease. I also bought a Mac, which isn’t Windows, isn’t Linux, but the best of both worlds. It wasn’t easy learning something new, but now I am fairly confident with all. It makes my computing life much easier. It did not take a ton of time, but it sure does save me a ton of money. I don’t need to mail a lot checks, pay a travel agent to book trips, or incur late charges for movies. And I can do it from anywhere, on anything, without worrying about security. I don’t have to pay some schmuck 400 bucks to install a new hard drive on a machine when I run out of storage. I don’t need to buy 20 file cabinets to store a lifetime of documents (it is all digitized, and strongly encrypted). And I don’t need to buy a lot of really expensive software either.

I feel bad when people call, saying their screen just froze, their hard drive is making sounds reminiscent of a meat grinder, or that their phone bill included $1,000 of 900 number calls initiated from their modem.

But I am not going to feel bad when they tell me they lost their job; that some young buck straight out of college installed the latest version of an enterprise level accounting package on their laptop and took over the payables and receivables departments, singlehandedly.

If you are not interested in learning, fine…no it is not fine. If you want tech support, you are going to have to pay someone for it. But in the long run, Americans are paying in more ways than one.