I’m sure many of you celebrated the passing of last year with no small amount of relief, and if you were one of the 190M people in the US who purportedly resolved to improve themselves this year, I’m going to bet at least some of you put “Get better at technology” on that list. While I heartily commend and support this goal, you should also know that the majority of us fail in New Year’s resolutions because we didn’t keep them specific, achievable and completable. A clock ticking over from “0” to “1” doesn’t make one year better than the previous, but one would think, “Surely, technology will be better in 2021.” Normally that would be a safe bet, but even my normally boundless enthusiasm for technology has been tempered by some trends I’ve watched develop in 2020. Regardless, getting better at (a specific) technology is worth pursuing, but you should also know that if it feels like an uphill battle, it’s because it will likely be just that. Here’s why:
You aren’t imagining things: technology overall is not getting any easier. One of the ongoing promises of technology is that it is supposed to be making our day-to-day lives easier. There’s no question that we are capable of more and we have access to things that weren’t even dreamed of 20 years ago, but for critical technology devices and services that are considered on the same essential tier as things like plumbing, automobiles, and central heating, they are still stubbornly complex, hard to troubleshoot, and well outside the understanding of any reasonably intelligent human. To be fair, most of us probably couldn’t install a sink or fix a car, but these technologies are largely standardized and have changed relatively little as compared to things like smartphones and computers. Even something that was dead simple for decades – the television – has become incomprehensible for many. For each thing that we simplify, two others seem to get more complex, and they seem to do so in service to two things: more security, and/or more functionality. Your takeaway from this observation: don’t feel like you are getting dumber. You aren’t – technology is changing faster than most of us can learn, and the constant level of change means that the knowledge we manage to gain quickly grows stale or obsolete. It’s exhausting, even for the experts.
If there is one thing that technology has failed to simplify – it’s security. As a matter of fact, in many ways technology has actually made staying safe that much harder. In decades past, if you did not want your data online, you avoided going online. Identity theft was elaborate and rare. Most of us had our credit cards stolen maybe once every 4-5 years, not 4-5 times a year. Our financial (and sometimes physical) security is regularly jeopardized by the negligence and carelessness of a megacorporation over which we have zero control, except in one, most meaningful way: Get out and vote for leaders who understand what is at stake and who have people and communities, not corporations (and their billionaires) as stakeholders. You should know what their position is on personal privacy and data protection. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions if given the opportunity – your safety is at stake. However, if you are looking for a break from activism and politics (let’s be honest, who isn’t?), here’s a smaller, achievable new year’s resolution: start using a password manager and better passwords for all your critical services.
The best, most useful technologies are ones that are focused, limited in scope and, ironically, change more slowly than the “normal” pace of technology. This isn’t a new revelation, and nothing in 2020 or years before lead me to believe this will change any time soon. If anything, use this as a rubric to assist you in identifying what technologies you wish to “get better at”. Frustrated at the confusing changes on your new smartphone? Focus on the core things you need it to do (not what it’s capable of) and learn how to make those services consistent and worry free. If you can’t make it either of those, then perhaps the device is ill-suited to the task. The very root of technology is the Greek technos and logia which literally translates to “the manner or means by which a thing is gained.” Technology is a means to an end and not the end itself. If a device, app or service is making it hard to achieve something – it’s the exact opposite of technology.