Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
1/28/2007
08:19 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Get Me The Geeks? Oh, Please!

Apparently, computers and TVs are now so complicated they can only be set up by people who stay at home Saturday nights reading technical manuals. That's how 60 Minutes portrayed it Sunday, on a segment called Get Me The Geeks.

Apparently, computers and TVs are now so complicated they can only be set up by people who stay at home Saturday nights reading technical manuals. That's how 60 Minutes portrayed it Sunday, on a segment called Get Me The Geeks.Reporter Steve Kroft edged into his novel thesis that we're highly dependent on technology with an introduction to Best Buy's Geek Squad, the computer fix-it crew that makes a mint installing RAM upgrades and will presumably make many millions more installing Vista upgrades and then explaining to disappointed customers why their Aero interfaces won't go translucent unless they spring for a new graphics card.

"Get Me The Geeks" then morphed into a discussion of poorly written product manuals (that's why you're not supposed to read them!) and was capped by a professor from central casting who avowed: "I've got a degree from MIT and even I can't get these things working." That's one argument against tenure, I guess.

Let's forget for a moment about 60 Minutes' less-than-original angle. (Props, though, to the old WB network, which tried a fresh twist on this last year with Beauty And The Geek, where the dork -- or one dork, anyway -- gets the babe.)

What bothers me is the assumption that we're living in a vast, technologically ignorant wasteland. I accept for the most part that we are either amid or in the early throes of a post-literate society. I know few people, aside from the journalists I work with, who read newspapers, much less buy them. While I personally will read any paper that's put in front of me, including The New York Times and The New York Post, I've always been bothered by the fact that so many stories evidence innumeracy. (Try comparing a year noted early in a story, any story, with an interval relating to that year later in the piece and see if you don't agree.)

However, one thing I'm pretty certain of is that today's young people know their way around cell phones, smartphones, computers, DVD players, and televisions.

Why? Because of Wolfe's "contrast-control" theory of technology. This is my realization that any generation is comfortable with -- and only with -- the technology in existence at the time they reached puberty. It's the reason why, when you were a kid, your parents called you to fix the vertical hold on the old black-and-white Magnavox, because they were afraid smoke would come out of the set if they so much as wiggled the rabbit ears. It's why you get your teenage daughter to reboot your PC. And it's why she'll be telepathically pinging her grandkids in 2052 to come fix the death ray.

Perhaps I'm just grumpy because tomorrow's a work day (or because I watched Andy Rooney after Kroft's segment), but I just wish 60 Minutes would take its cliched geek stories and shove them.

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