Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ignorance Isn't Bliss

The recent #epicfails of Apple and Blackberry this week point to the problem with full service, closed tech eco-systems.  The internet didn't go down, but Blackberry's centralized user access did.  The internet didn't go down, but Apple's 'only through us shall you see the light' centralized control was overloaded by its own success.

If all those users could kick off their BB and Apple training wheels and use the many avenues available to them to access data in the cloud, they wouldn't find themselves labouring under a despotic, closed ecosystem.  Of course that same ecosystem means their tech can be 'easy', 'intuitive' (a catch word for easy) and, most importantly, simple enough for people who don't really care how something works to use it.

This kind of trained ignorance results in people who call themselves technically literate, but don't know how to resolve an IP address when their DNS server isn't working.  Like most people behind the wheel of a car, they have no interest in how it works, yet consider themselves expert drivers.  If you're going to call yourself 'leading edge' and 'technically literate' you should be able to pick up any device because you understand their fundamentals.  Anyone who's an evangelist of a single source of technology and is only comfortable with that one source, especially one in a closed ecosystem, can't claim to have any real digital chops.

An expert driver can hop into a vehicle in Japan or the UK, with the controls reversed and the stick shift on the wrong side, and have it humming.  It's a lot easier to say you're an expert in your field of interest than it is to demonstrate it.  That driver understands vehicle fundamentals and only has to refocus some simple hand-eye habits to quickly acclimatize.  They have the confidence, knowledge and range of experience to quickly adapt.

I sometimes find my Android phone frustrating, but that's usually after I've wandered far from the manufacturer's suggested settings (something easy to do in this open-source environment).  I sometimes find Ubuntu frustrating when it doesn't do things as easily as I would like.  But in either case, I've never sat in the dark for three days wondering where my information went, or sat staring at a single point of failure that got overloaded when the ihordes came in waves.

Ease of use matters, no doubt, and software design only truly works when users are able to effectively operate the machines they are using.  What makes me anxious about the recent closed eco-system failures is that the vast majority of (l)users are trapped in systems designed to keep it simple for them, and they don't realize how dependent and unresilient they are in an otherwise massively complex technical eco-system.

No wonder hackers feel like they are in a forest of low hanging fruit.