Thursday, June 21, 2012

The end of Tech Support

I have been whinging about the tech support business for a while now. So much that I finally heard myself say the same thing enough times for it to sink in.  Being in IT sucks.  Fixing computers is a dying art form.  There is less and less to fix.  I have not needed to turn on a multimeter in years. Usually I can fix a computer simply by swapping it with another computer more easily than I can repair something.  Its not even a case of swapping componente anymore. It's not that the parts are not availible (unless its a laptop...) but its just that they are consumer products.  No one wants or needs to care about whats inside their computer now.  There are still boxes being sold that are under-powered and under-spec for what they are sold to do; but thats a matter for comsumer law. It should not be "fixed" by an end consumer needing to "upgrade" their consumer product to do what it should have done in the first place.  This is a game for rev-heads and hard core geeks.  Everyone else should be able to buy a box, unpack it, plug it in and get on with their lives.  This is the nature of consumption.  Its about making all the choices at the point of sale rather than continually having to make choices and spend money through the life of a product.  That's called shity product design. 

Yes the geeks will lament the passing of the time when they again were vital to everyones lives.  Just like the old time geeks lamented the days when TV sets needed constant tweaking and secret knowledge of soldering irons to keep them going.  This is just the computer industry finally growing up and making products that do what they claim straight out of the box.

Now I can send my grandmother (not literally as she has passed away) out to buy a computer (iPad) and she does not have to make any choices that she does not have the capacity to make.  She knows she needs a computer to do some things... that should be enough.  Job done. 

The rest of the half-assed solutions where she needs to get a technician to try to talk her through a range of choices about monitors or RAM or hard drive specs or the trade off between dual core or higher clock speed are bullshit.  She does not have the background to make these choices and the technicians rarely have the capacity to frame the discussion in a meaningful way.  So its a bullshit exercise.  This is why "consumers" are voting with their wallets and buying all-in-one solutions that do not require some bullshit exercise where they are made to feel stupid.  Who would sign up for that if they are given a choice?  The thing to keep in mind is that most people do not give a fuck about computers, software, apps, phones, anything in the comm stack, operating systems, GUI widgets, open or closed platforms or any of the other bullshit that swirls around in the self indulgent geek-sphere.  It's all bullshit. 

And its dying out... again. 

This is a pattern people, look at photography, look at any consumer electronics, look at cars, look at toasters.  Anything that has to be accessible to "very" ordinary people has to be incredibly uncomplicated, with very simple decision points in the purchase chain and very simple ownership models.  It just has to work!  Mostly inspite of what the owners do to it. 

Reduce choice, reduce complexity, reduce flexibilty. Increase robustness, fault tollerance and deal with lack of precision from the users gracefully (or hide the effect all together). 

Think of all the bullshit "Design Scenarios" that you hear in these retrospective articles on famous device design....

(and I may be paraphrasing here) "....created it to fill that need where rich, young, hip, highly educated people with endless resources and time to appreciate the most beautiful things could fiddle with our delightful device and enrich their existance while reclining in their stark white apartment surrounded by shiny shit..."

Fuck that.  

Make a device work on a sheep station in the middle of a desert with illiterate staff who hate the device and are constantly trying to kill it to avoid work.  Make it work for a fisherman who is trying to feed his family while out killing wildlife in an ocean thats trying to kill him.  Make it work in a fucking coal mine with intermittant blackouts, toxic gas, heavy machinery and constant explosions. 

Go on. Design a fucking device that can operate in those conditions and make it work without a geek in sight. From opening the box.... otherwise fuck off. 

Geeks have had their day.... IT jobs are drying up.  All the easy stuff has been consolidated. Its only the hard bits that are still around.  Integration in small businesses. Custom hardware solutions for niche problems.  Dragging paper based systems or old legacy systems into this century.  Low margin work, with low skilled clients with poor business models.

The home computing environment is done.  Buy a box. Buy some apps. Go.  No Geek needed.

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