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The Creek Beat: Latest Technology? Just Give Me Something That Works

They don't make 'em like the used to, but I think there's an underlying reason

Our new washing machine. I hope it works as well as the old one.
Our new washing machine. I hope it works as well as the old one.
I like the Apple store in downtown Walnut Creek.

It's got lots of cool stuff and the people who work there are usually quick and helpful.

However, something happened there on Friday that I think is indicative of our technology-laden world.

I went in to set up an appointment to have a key fixed on the Apple laptop computer that I love.

The "return" key is split down the middle. It's not a big deal. It still works, but I thought, why not get it fixed since the Apple store is right there.

So, I walked in and was told I needed to make an appointment with the "Genius Bar." Really? It takes a genius to get a key from the back storage room and glue it to the keyboard?

OK, fair enough. But then I was told I needed to log in to one of their computers and make the appointment using my Apple ID and password.

Well, first, I never use my Apple ID, so I don't know the user name or password.

Second, you can't make an appointment for me while I'm standing right here?

Apparently not, I was told.

The incident just reenforced an opinion I have that we have become too smart and too enamored with technology for our own good.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those "things were better in my day" type of old person. I love having a cell phone, a laptop and other gadgets. They do make life easier.

However, these things simply don't work as well as they used to. We've junked them with too many ancillary functions that really aren't that necessary. It's just more components that can go wrong. These gadgets can do 100 things but none of them well.

Take cars. They can tell you what the temperature is outside and how many miles you have left before the gas tank is empty.

But they seem to break down more often than older models. Again, more components, more chance of something need a repair.

My wife and I had a microwave for 25 years. The only reason it stopped working is because a power surge went through our neighborhood a few years ago and toasted it. Our new microwave can do lots of things, but it doesn't do the basic function of warming food as well or as easily as the old appliance.

We got a new Tivo box recently after our old one worked well for 10 years. That was a mistake. The new box does lot more things, but it doesn't record programs as well as the old one.

We just bought a new washing machine only because the one we'd had for 30 years got its plastic tub punctured by a wire. We bought the most stripped down washer Best Buy had. I don't need a machine that adjusts the water level by weighing the laundry load. I'll eyeball it and take my chances. I'm hoping this washer works half as well as the old one. We'd get to keep it 15 years.

I think what has happened is we now have people putting these machines together who are really good at writing code but aren't so good at being practical or communicating with humans.

Don't believe me? Have you ever tried to read the "instruction manual" for a computer or other gadget? That's right. They're indecipherable.

As for my laptop computer keyboard. I decided to leave it as it is.

It still works and I'm afraid if I take it in, one of the geniuses at the Apple store will install a key that doesn't work as well and breaks in a month.

Jojo Potato November 11, 2013 at 04:26 PM
David, David, David. You just don't get it, it's not important that the thing works right, just how cool it is. If it's cool enough then it's your fault if it doesn't work. Listen, I've been in the software business for years and watched the quality erode as useless features were added to feed the demand for cool. You are now required to put up with crap that can't be repaired because it's got features you never really wanted anyway. As an example, my dryer had a recall to replace the main circuit board because it could speed up uncontrollably when spinning and shoot out and through the laundry room wall. Apple geniuses are actually arbiters of cool and since you didn't kowtow to that you were dealt with appropriately.
David Mills (Editor) November 11, 2013 at 04:32 PM
Ah... thanks for explaining all this to me, Jojo! I feel much better!
Jojo Potato November 11, 2013 at 07:25 PM
Checkout "The Mythical Man Month" from 1975 to get a look at how it all started to go wrong. I think it can be downloaded free. Written by the manager of the largest software project up to that time. Very pertinent to the recent healthcare troubles as we'll. An all time classic. Might also look at
Jojo Potato November 11, 2013 at 07:29 PM
"Are your lights on?" For more fables of bad design and organizational behavior.
Michelle Anglo Bea November 13, 2013 at 04:04 PM
Just came back from the Genius Bar myself where they told me my 4 year old macbook pro wasn't worth the $300 of repairs it needs. But didn't I pay a premium when I bought it so that it would both be a quality computer that wouldn't break down, and not be obsolete once I walked out the door? So frustrating!

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