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Privacy·Society·Technology

Tech Workers Hate Technology


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Introduction[#]


This whole article is summed up by this image:

programmers_hate_technology.webp

I'm in the second group.

I have strong, negative opinions about many different pieces of technology. Technology in the modern age is often excessive (no, I do not need to be able to turn on my car from my phone), privacy invasive (as I’ve mentioned in my articles regarding Reddit, Youtube, and Twitter), poorly designed, and inefficient.

Despite these criticisms, there’s no doubt I spend a lot of time with technology, and this may seem like contradiction at first. If I ever begin discussing issues of privacy in the digital age or the nonsensical idea of a car needing to be updated before you can drive it (you can also get notifications in your car?), I get a strange reaction. “Why does this person who works with technology for a living seem to hate it so much?” I’ve thought about this for a while now, and I think I’ve come up with numerous reasons why.

“I Could Have Done a Better Job”[#]


This is probably the simplest reason: when you load up a program and it just doesn’t work, someone who understands how that program was written can’t help but think they could have written that program better. Whether or not the person could actually do a better job is a matter of debate, but the point still stands.

This goes for more than just technology as well. My father and grandfather were in the restaurant business years ago, so they can’t help but judge the waiters and waitresses every time they go to a restaurant. This criticism comes from the fact that they’ve been in that waiter’s position themselves, and knows precisely when they’re not doing a good job and what qualifies a good job.

My grandfather also does all the work around the housework himself because he believes he can do it better himself——and most of the time, he’s right.

Anyway, just like how someone who’s worked as a waiter knows what a good service looks like, someone who’s worked on software before knows what good software looks like. When a page is loading, I can’t help but wonder why it’s taking so long. I like to desire minimal, performant webpages when possible, so the thought of a page loading dozens of trackers and other bloat is annoying to me. Most people, however, aren’t even aware that much of a webpage’s loading time is spent loading pointless nonsense meant to spy on them, so this extra loading time doesn’t bother them. They just assume it’s supposed to take that long.

When I visit a webpage and see that they’ve hijacked the scrollbar with their own custom JavaScript scrollbar and they’ve made a custom scrolling animation for scrolling down the page, I just shake my head. I know that overriding the scrollbar is considered bad practice, and the custom scroll animation is just a waste of resources. In contrast, the average Internet user today wouldn’t even notice an issue with the scroll bar or the scroll animation. In actually, they’d probably be browsing the page on a phone and not be impacted at all.

The Website Obesity Crisis gives a good idea of the problem I’m describing with the modern Internet. However, even this article is not able to explain its point without lapsing into technical language: would your grandma be able to understand the problem with a page being 18MB in size? Would your mother? For me, the answer to both those questions is no. Technology is complex, and it’s only through understanding that technology that we can tell good technology apart from bad technology.

To Understand Something is to Know its Flaws[#]


When you know a lot about a topic, you often are able to realize flaws that others cannot. My grandfather has done a lot of work with wood over the years and can instantly recognize a shoddy job or rotting wood when, to an untrained eye, nothing appears amiss. The same goes for software. Even if the product or the very concept of the product are lackluster, if you put a heavy enough coat of lacquer on it most people won’t be able to tell the difference.

When I go on github.com, I am greeted with a massive spinning globe. Right click it, and I can pause it. I can pause it, because GitHub has decided it’s a good usage of my Internet bandwidth to load a random video of a globe spinning whenever I go to the front page of a website dedicated to building software. There’s no reason for this video to be there. It’s pointless. I’m sure if you’re on some slow Internet——either in a rural area or in a third world country——GitHub must take forever to load if you visit the front page because you’re forced to load this pointless video. There’s just no reason for it.

github_homepage.webp

Why is there a spinning globe? Who is that ugly astronaut? What does this have to do with software development beyond a stupid marketing line?

On the desktop, a similar problem exists with applications developed with Electron, a framework which essentially creates another copy of Chromium on your system. It’s incredibly excessive and bloated, yet people will continue to use it to develop applications because many developers think it’s easier for them. A lot of developers also just think it’s a trendy thing to use, so they hop on the bandwagon and use this massive technology stack. ReactJS, Docker, and Electron are all these sorts of frameworks and technologies that people seem to use regardless of whether they’re necessary for the project or not because “they’re what people use,” according to whoever is in charge of starting most modern applications.

Even beyond software, there exist numerous pieces of technology that are pointless or just plain bad ideas but people like them anyway. My personal favorite example is Android Auto/Apple CarPlay. The problem that these technologies seek to solve is integrating your phone with your car, for stuff like navigation software or playing music on your phone. The solution, however, is horribly excessive——bloat, if you will. When you plug your phone into your car, Apple CarPlay essentially connects two separate computers: a computer in your car, and your phone. The computer in your car is its own completely separate piece of software from the phone, and the phone and car are just constantly relaying information between each other. The question that wasn’t asked is why? Why does my car need to have a computer in it, essentially a separate operating system that’s communicating with my other computing device? Do I really need two computers just to display a map in my car and play some music?

I believe a far better solution to this issue would have been to have a dock built into your car to stick your phone, using your already perfectly serviceable phone screen to display whatever you’d need, using the exact same UI you’re already used to from your phone. Or, the phone can simply plug into an external display——since I assume many cars would still need a display for the backup camera——and display navigation or music information there. Instead, we have this complicated, expensive, unserviceable piece of technology being built into every car. This is a premium feature that car companies charge a lot for, so the main reason my idea doesn’t exist is probably because it’s not as profitable. Companies also profit from repairing the expensive computers inside of cars in the event that they break down.

smart_salt_dispenser.webp

Just what I needed, a smart salt dispenser! With its own app, of course!

Where I see excess, however, the average person goes “ooooo, shiny new technology.” They are not thinking about the implementation of the idea and if there was an easier way or not, they are simply using what is new and assuming it’s better. If I describe this idea to your mother——plugging in a phone to an external display in your car instead of the current overkill solution——she’d probably not have an opinion on it. She’d wonder if it’s even possible. She’d assume that the current implementation would have to be the best idea since the experts who made the car put Apple CarPlay/Android Auto into the car rather than do what I proposed.

Smart home technology is an even more concise example. To me, a person who is constantly dealing with software, it is clear how much it breaks, how insecure anything connected to the Internet can be, and how privacy violating closed source software can be. This is why it baffles me that people continue to put devices like Amazon Echos or Google Homes into their houses, devices that are, by nature of their function, constantly listening to everything you say. I laugh when I read a news article about someone’s smart light bulb needing to update before it can turn on——in fact, I’ve even read the same thing about someone wanting to drive their Tesla before.

smart_soap_dispenser.webp

Smart soap dispenser with Alexa integration. What purpose does it serve?

A professor from my college days is probably one of the smartest people I’ve known. Quite regularly, he would sigh and say to himself “I hate technology.” Technology is a cool and awesome and powerful thing, but anyone who works or develops technology——software especially——knows how prone it is to breaking. It’s better to just walk to your lamp and turn it on the old fashion way than deal with the potential headache of a smart light bulb.

The “Technology Enthusiast”[#]


There is a fundamental difference between someone who works with technology for a living and someone who considers themselves a “Technology Enthusiast.” These are different breeds of men. They are convinced that something new is always better, that the iPhone 13 is leagues better than their old iPhone 12, that their Tesla being able to be unlocked from their phone is the coolest thing in the world, and that their new computer looks more aesthetic than their old one so it must be better. I link to this image again.

starbucks_tech_enthusiast.webp

A technology enthusiast's natural habitat.

These individuals, in the blind devotion they have to the religion known as technological progress, are unable to properly consider the consequences of their changes. They do not consider that the Tesla being able to be unlocked from a phone could be a security hazard. They don’t consider whether a new piece of technology is necessary, they just buy the new because they like new things regardless of whether they improve upon the old or not.

Ultimately, you can’t fault these people because they’re just regular people. Maybe they could think a bit more about how their technology is being used and the effects it has on their lives, but there is just too much going on in human society for the average person to be an expert in every subject.

A trendy “Tech Enthusiast” will try to use as much technology in their day-to-day life as he can. On the other hand, technology professionals like Tim Cook, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and a plethora of others instead attempt to restrict the technology usage of their children until they are older. It is a similar reason to why Kings of old would have the architects of their castles executed once the fortifications were completed: the architects of technology know its flaws and weaknesses better than anyone else.

More Change than Ever Before[#]


Technology is changing more rapidly than ever before. The ways that the ancient farmers of Egypt or Mesopotamia lived their lives would have been familiar to peasants of the Middle Ages. An early 16th century colonist of the New World would have lived very similar lives to an American in the 18th or 19th centuries——nearly two-hundred years later. The point is this: the ways of human life have stayed much the same for nearly the entirety of human history.

It was only in the late 19th and 20th centuries that technology began to change peoples lives so drastically that life in the 1980s was unbelievably different from life in 1880s, a difference of only a hundred years. And now, life in the year 2000 compared with life in the present day——a difference of only twenty years——is similarly different if not more so. Changes have been swift, both socially as well as economically. This is not sustainable because humans are not used to such rapid change.

My grandparents, for instance, have been left behind. They learned how a VCR worked, but they never got the hang of DVR, let alone Netflix and digital entertainment. They read catalogs and magazines and newspapers, not wanting to get involved with the newer, stranger ways people read news nowadays. They could greatly benefit from using some technology, but they’re stuck in their ways. This makes sense in a way, given that stability has been a trait that has led to success in humans for a long time now. Once you learn how to farm a crop or hunt an animal, doing things the same ways throughout the generations is a fairly safe survival technique.

The whole situations with the elderly and tech-illiterate can be laughable for a moment, but it won’t be long until you’re the same way. Technological progress is moving faster and faster and——as I hope I’ve adequately demonstrated already——this rapid pace of change isn’t always for the better. We lose so many things, big things like freedoms and human rights just as much as we lose the ability to record a show on television the way we always used to. Constant change is not a natural state for most humans, and this will continue to cause problems for humanity in decades and centuries to come.

Closing Thoughts[#]


It seems that many people in society are giving up on traditional ideas that work in favor of whatever the newest thing is. Indeed, it is a sort of religious belief these days that the new is better than the old. But, next time you try to ask Alexa whether it will rain in an hour, why don’t you try walking outside to the street corner and searching the sky for clouds? You might be surprised to see the sky as it’s been for millennia, clear and blue, looking right back at you.

The technological innovation which has accompanied this new digital age has been incredible; together, we can keep it that way by carefully choosing what technology is useful to incorporate into our lives. Let us strive to reap the benefits of human progress while simultaneously preserving our freedoms, quality of life, and ability to drive a car without it needing to update first.

I just can’t get over it: why on Earth does Tesla need to be able to send notifications to your car?


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