October 3, 2023

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I’m sorry that I look like a grumpy old man. But I’m going to play the role of Andy Rooney, complaining about devices and technologies that – no matter how well-intentioned – seem to be forgotten by the average person.

It’s me, the grumpy one who asks: Who is the technology made for? Technology is no longer just for nerds; companies often pretend they are.

A few weeks ago Amazon and Apple got into a dispute over “lossless” audio files. I didn’t know what they were either. They are high quality digital songs that most people cannot tell apart from the regular versions. Likewise, the new features in cellphone software seem clever, but I wonder how many people are using them and customizing iMessage notifications for their boss. One of the first from Apple is for around 18 people who want to use the same keyboard to control an iPad and a Mac at the same time.

Please don’t yell at me. I know some people are passionate about these things and it makes sense for tech companies to care about them. In addition, companies are constantly improving their products in ways that are relevant to both one percent of the tech freaks and the other.

However, I can’t help but think that it would be better for tech companies and us if they focused their energy and marketing power on what is important to 99 percent of the people who use technology.

Smartphones are one of the most massive products in history. What do many people want from their cell phones? Attractive looks, simplicity, longer battery life, low cost of the device and internet surfing, and greater resilience to our clumsiness.

However, the main marketing argument for smartphones in the US has been their ability to connect to 5G cellular networks, which most Americans don’t have access to and which may not be needed at all for a long time. .

When Apple devotes all of its television commercials to dropping its phones, you know the industry thinks of the 99 percent. (Yes, I know many phones have been made more resistant to water, including bathroom immersion.)

I loved a 2019 list from The Verge of all the things the tech industry assumes that everyone knows but most people don’t. Ordinary people don’t know how Facebook ads work, why bluetooth is so flawed (or what bluetooth is), or whether they need to buy extra storage on their phones as Apple keeps reminding them.

“It’s a vital reminder of an important fact that I think the entire tech industry is constantly forgetting,” wrote Nilay Patel in this 2019 article. “Most people have no idea how something really works and are already hopelessly confused by it Technology that has it ”.

Most people do not have the time or space to worry about more than the basics of using their phone, computer, television, or other basic needs and applications. That is perfectly fine and normal. What is not right is that the world’s largest and richest companies often fail to meet these needs.

Technology companies should continue to showcase cutting-edge advances. But there doesn’t seem to be a balance between what’s new and what most people really need.

Tech companies should also stop pretending that ordinary people are involved in complex privacy controls. That could mean that baby monitors shouldn’t contain passwords that criminals can easily find on the internet, and that Amazon shouldn’t automatically turn people’s home appliances into a shared internet network.

I don’t have an easy solution. Perhaps technology companies should hire directors of normalcy to ensure gadgets, applications, and software are needed and used by 99 percent of people.

It’s really difficult to keep things simple and meet the needs of millions or billions of people. The first step is to remember that technology should be there for everyone.

Shira Ovide writes the On Tech newsletter, a guide to how technology is reshaping our lives and the world. @ShiraOvide