Techno Curmudgeon


I've been fascinated and involved in technology my entire adult life. In high school, I had this record player that could play as many as six records (stacked up and dropped one at a time), at either 45 or 78 RPM. I would take that thing completely apart and reassemble it and test that indeed it worked afterwards. The purpose and placement of each piece was obvious to me. I did this over and over, like a 3D puzzle.

I felt that technology was my ally. I became a cabinetmaker in my 20's and later got into software. I tried my abilities as an entrepreneur creating a 3D cabinet design program and sold it to a few thousand people, hardly anyone returned it for their money back. So, I feel confident about designing thing that people love to use.

I also feel confident enough about design to critique what's around me, from appliances in my home to the systems of civilization. I see strong indicators that technology has surpassed our species' ability to embrace it.

techical support

Let's take techical support as an example. When a device misbehaves, I look at it, investigate its buttons or connections, look for a manual or troubleshooting guidance online, and eventually sometimes call the manufacturer. My call is answered by a recording which asks me questions to which I am requested to select a response by tapping a number. More questions follow. Many times, the problem I have is not mentioned as a selection option. So, patiently, I wait for an agent. The agent is trained to be polite and helpful, to carefully provide lots of information that have been written out for them to read or memorize. Even here, my problem may not be covered by this scripted material. I ask for a supervisor and most of the time they are able to speak as an informed person and not just read from a script. Some of them even tell jokes and laugh with me. Sometimes even the expert cannot help, not even after calling multiple times and talking with different experts. The technology itself is too complex.

So here's my take on it. The cost of excellent technology is higher than almost every budget assigned to it. Several shortcuts are taken. A portion of a product may be farmed out to a subcontractor or is bought of the shelf from another company with an expertise in that area. Whichever option is taken, that portion must be integrated, explained, documented and ultimately taught to technical support agents. Each of these steps is expensive and thus subject to cost cutting for the sake of increasing profit margin and shareholder earning. The effect of this on the customer is eventual product failure followed by hours of troubleshooting that sometimes fails to resolve the issue.


So, here's a typical situation I find distressing. Every day brings at least a trickle of new tasks needing attention and action. As an example, today I open a letter and calmly read it. It told me that if I don't make contact rather soon, some service I like may be altered or removed. No phone number given. I mutter "unbelievable," and try visiting the website they mention, and struggle (with more muttering) to log in and struggle to navigate. Ahah, I find a number and I call it. Okay, so get this: I am on hold for just shy of two hours while multitasking. I gave up and ended the call when a friend calls me and I let them through. Later, back on the site, I found a waiting list, where I added my phone number to have them call me back. They have not called in the 30 hours since. This is how my task list often contains tasks which will take significant time to accomplish nothing. I figure this is due to services that have not scaled well to match current demands. My guess is that petty competition from other initiatives starve budgets. I also suppose that the skills and knowledge needed to create a wonderful experience is not universally shared and is slowly and expensively recreated in each separate initiative. This and ill-adapted rigid processes long past their use-by date that are too expensive to update and retrain teams. These are massive global inefficiencies, impacting enterprises and individuals to who knows what overall cost of time.


Companies need working capital which quite often comes from investors. Investors do this for profit. To make this work, products are optimized for profit margin. It's that or go out of business.

There are two things wrong with this method of creating and nurturing a human enterprise. The first is that the customer is envisioned as a necessary burden rather than as the core reason for existence. Advertising is carefully crafted to draw customers into making a purchase. Done. After that, the concern for the customer is reduced to a barely sufficient minimum. The second thing wrong is that this makes the shareholders vastly important and influential. But wait, what's their motive? Quality, customer relations, happy employees, ecological impact? Rarely is this the case. Instead, most shareholders are excited about profits, dividends and increases in stock value.

Where does the profit really go? Investors and high salary employees.

Most collective human efforts are measured against the paradigm and methodology of corporations. Is such a collective effort worth funding? My question is, what about other designs for human efforts? For an answer, I hear crickets.

group mind

The divide between US political parties is stubbornly fixed in place. Both sides claim the other is lying. One side has proof and the other side has opinion. Neither side will back down and accept the claims of the other. At times this escalates into violence. Rumors of impending crisis like civil war or rewriting the constitution strike fear.