Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Computer Illiterate

Computers are funny. Short of perhaps, toilets, we rely on computers more than any other device today. Actually, I take that back. We could live without toilets if we had to. I mean, we all have backyards, right? Computers on the other hand, have become essential, yet almost no one knows how they work. If you look at our population as a whole, only a minute fraction of us actually know why and how computers work. The rest of us just use them.

Compared to my mom, I am an IT professional. And compared to most people over 80 years old, I’m Bill Gates. But that does not mean that I really know anything at all about computers, and chances are, neither do you. You may think you’re computer literate, but are you really? Can you look at the registry and spot an error? Do you really know what BIOS is? You might know what it stands for, but do you really know what it is? Do you have any idea what the company Oracle even does? I didn’t think so. Neither do I.

I would be willing to bet that even the most un-mechanical person knows more about the inner workings of their car than they do about their computer. I happen to know a lot about cars and how they work, but here’s what an auto-related problem would look like if my car expertise was as sub-par as my computer expertise:

Car stops driving correctly all of a sudden with a loud bang.
Pull over on the side of the road.
Turn it off and turn it back on.
Pull back out onto the road.
Same problem.
Pull over again.
Turn it off and turn it back on.
Try to drive again.
Same problem.
Pull over and get out.
Stand right next to the blown and shredded driver’s side front tire, oblivious to what the problem is.
Call someone to come and fix my unknown problem for me. “Car won’t go. Don’t know why.”

The thing that got me thinking about all this was a familiar pop-up message the other day, from the lower right corner of my computer screen.

“Adobe Flash Player needs to be updated. Click here to continue.”

I, of course, click on the message and say, OK. I feel like I have to, because the message didn’t say “would like to update,” it said “needs to be updated.” I take them at their word.

The update begins, which takes up my time. I am forced to answer inane questions like, “Is this the destination folder you would like?” What am I going to say? No? If that is the destination folder that you guys who wrote this software think this update should go, then who am I to argue?

Downloading commences, and the familiar status bar begins to fill from left to right, giving me something to do while I wait. Look, we’re over 50% complete! Yippee!

When it has finished downloading, it immediately begins installation. One hundred percent-filled status bar later, it tells me the installation was successful. Then it shares some other news with me.

Not only did it apparently update the Adobe Flash Player like it said it needed to do, but it also went ahead and installed Google Toolbar on my Microsoft Internet Explorer without asking me if that was OK. It also tried to install Google Chrome without asking, but it failed to do so, because I already had it installed.

Imagine if this computer was my car:

I hop into my Ford Expedition and open up the garage door. I start the car and am about to back down the driveway when I notice a Ford mechanic standing at my window.
He says he needs to change my fan belt right away.
I turn off the engine and let him get to work.
An hour later he knocks on the front door and says he changed the fan belt, and also replaced the rear cargo door on my Expedition with one from a Chevy Suburban. He tried to replace the steering wheel with one from a Suburban, too, but couldn’t get the bolts loose, so he put spinners on my rims instead.

Why is that scenario OK when it comes to computers?

Amazingly, at the end of my Adobe Flash Player update experience, I received this query:

Please pick 1 thru 5 stars to rate your experience with this update. Did this update accomplish everything you wanted it to? Yes/No

Well, let’s see. You told me you needed to update an Adobe product and then you installed two Google products onto my computer. I have no idea why I needed an update to the flash player, if you actually updated it, or even what the flash player does, so I guess I have to answer this way:

I don’t know what the update was supposed to accomplish in the first place. I didn’t want it, and I don’t know if I needed it. If this update miraculously kept my computer from crashing behind the scenes, then my answer to your question is yes.

On the other hand, if the “update” to the flash player was simply to change the name from 4.0 to 4.1 and the real reason for this exercise was that Google paid you a lot of money to install their products on my computer without my permission, then my answer is no.

I wish I knew enough to know if I should be mad or not.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. for those of us that know NOTHING about cars OR computers, I feel this way when I go get my oil changed. All I'm doing is following the rule of changing it every 3,000 miles. Then they ask me inane questions like, "What grade do you want?" I dunno an A+????? What does that MEAN?!! Then they told me something to the effect that I need my transmission fluid replaced, to which I reply that it is a manual transmission, to which the guy says simply "oh, then I guess you don't need that". OMG?! REALLY??!
    I'd rather have a tooth pulled than deal with computer upgrades OR oil changes. :)