[Editors Note: This is recent reediting of an article I wrote when I originally joined JoeUser. The wannabe "Newsweek" tone has been removed and replaced with actual personality.]
Does anyone remember one of the old Dell commercials? It features groups of computer-illiterate individuals that are attending a Computer Purchasing Boot Camp in order to learn how to not get screwed. You see images of trainees running in groups, chanting names of various types of hardware. Other trainees are in “combat training” with mock salespeople (“Your fancy jargon has no effect on me!!”). One poor sap is struggling with a round of pushups; when asked by his drill sergeant why he doesn’t quit, the guy responds, “I still don’t know how to format a hard drive!” It does make for a kind of a funny image, doesn’t it?
Of course the part that always bothered me was when the Dell announcer would come on and say (mind you this is paraphrased with a degree of bias), "It's OK, you don't need to know about computers. Just tell us what you want to do. Well get you all set up. We’re your buddies…we'd never screw you, trust us"
HA! That's pretty funny. But that's just it though - if someone hasn't a clue about what they want or need, there is no way to tell if a company is being forthright with you or not. The fact is that the computer industry has become saturated with herds of these clueless individuals, who will blindly trust whatever "expert" comes their way and will take it on faith that person knows best what they “need.” And trust me, there are plenty in this industry that are ready to pounce on these clueless masses; drooling with delight and with dollar signs in their eyes.
It leaves me to wonder how have things come this far? There once was a time when the average computer user could at least read and understand the "Minimum Requirements" labels on the sides of hardware and software boxes - and knew exactly what it meant in relation to their computer. Of course, computing wasn't a prolific comodity back then. But thanks to the growth of the Internet computer usage has become as common place as Cable TV. And it's given way to a whole new market of people who just don't care how their computers work or what it's made of - They just want their precious AOL.
I can't blame ignorance entirely on the Internet generation though. With the newest crop of Wizards, Fixers, and a multitude of automated gadgets to do all for you, modern computers (at least on the surface) require the least ammount of intelligence to operate yet. So why should one go out of their way to understand more about what's "under the hood?" It's like if cars began to drive, fuel, and change their fluids for us. So why shouldn't Big Business continue to love and nurture this kind of ignorance? Clueless user bases generate much more revenue by way of tech support charges than an educated one. Not to mention when your customers have no idea what they're buying, it's easy to get away with using cheap, worthless components. You can't tell me that that $499 Dell with monitor and DVD writer is built with top-of-the-line parts - that's just bull hocky. But people will still skip passed the more expensive - and likely higher quality - machines in search of the lowest price point. Add in the "expert" to sing the praises of whatever paticular brand builds said cheap system, and they're sold. If only they new....
Of course, all of this cluelessness does come with some backfire on manufactures. This blind helplessnes on which they rake in their green also generates a stigma - not only should owners no longer have to be responsible or knowledgeable about their machines, god forbid it's their problem when something goes wrong. This has more of a negative effect on small system builders than it does on the big business that generates it. If a system breaks, even if it’s the result of the user’s ignorance, it’s the builder's fault. What used to be concidered basic maintenance on a system, the computer is now responsible to do for itself. It never matters how much of a system failure is due to user error, it is still either the computer’s fault, or the fault of the manufacturer; never the user. In sumation, the modern consumer no longer feels obliged to take credit for his or her own mistakes and problems.
This is what I'd like to see. I'd like to see some individual accountability rediscovered. People need to once again realize that their hands cannot and should not always be held - it’s time they start gaining a better knowledge of exactly what makes their systems tick. People need to realize that when they buy cheap stuff, that they're going to get what they pay for. Problems can and will happen; especially when they do not keep up with key maintenance procedures. But most importantly, I'd like to see people be able to use their own minds and do some market research on the computers they buy. Stop blindly trusting every "expert" or commercial that comes their way with suggestions of what they “need” or “should” buy.
I close with a somewhat crude but still viable analogy to the automobile industry. JoeUser wants to buy a car. He knows nothing about them, but heard that they're nicer than walking and can take you to some fun places. So suppose JoeUser finds and "expert" that tells him what he needs for that daily commute is an 18-Wheel Semi rig? Afterall, you just can't find that kind of power anywhere else. Would you just blindly accept this suggestion? Suppose JoeUser is on a budget, so he seeks out the lowest price. Suppose the vehicle he finds has a sports car body, but with a lawn-mower engine under the hood and a lawn chair duct taped to the floor for the drivers seat. How about that beauty, eh? Now suppose that after JoeUser buys this car he never changes the oil, never rotates or balances his tires, or checks any other fluids for the next 12 months. Then later one day he get a package containing a bag of sugar. The add on the box says that if you pour the sugar into your gas tank that your car will run 5-times better! Starting to get pretty ludicrous, right? How could I possibly suggest that someone would handle car ownership like this? Easy - this is exactly the way most modern consumers handle computer ownership.
-- Syrrus, he who hath seen too much of this nonense to comprehend any longer