Holistic Technology: What’s Wrong with This Machine?

I decided to write this column after working as a hardware sales consultant for a year. Lengthy exposure to people’s concerns and complaints about their computers has led me to the belief that the biggest problem that people face in putting computers and other machines to good use is not a problem of user interface, nor a problem of intrinsic design. The problem is that people hate their computers.

They like what their machines do for them, but on a deep and abiding level, they hate the malicious chunk of metal and plastic with which they are compelled to interact in order to get the good stuff, and they fear the unpredictable ways in which it may cause them trouble. This creates what they call in personal-growth circles “bad energy”. As a result, people spend their computer time stewing in their own bad vibes, which impairs their ability to deal with problems which may arise as well as their ability to be productive with the machine in any way.

There is an ongoing effort to make computing more and more inoffensive, in an attempt to alleviate people’s technophobia. For the majority of users, however, the problem is not technophobia but misotechny — hatred of machines, not fear. No matter how non-threatening and easy to use you make a computer, misotechny will still stand between people and their machines.

Most people are smart enough to understand and learn computer skills far beyond the level of most users. The problem is that they don’t want to. They don’t feel they should have to. Psychological obstacles prevent them. What we need, therefore, is skills for overcoming people’s hatred of their machines, so that they can devote their energies to making their computers help them do whatever they want them to do.

This column exists to take a few steps in that direction. It’s aimed at the basic user trying to establish a better relationship with their tools, but I think anyone who works with computers may find something interesting from time to time. There will be a little bit of theory, a little bit of philosophy, and a little bit of technical advice. With a little luck, we can all learn to groove with our machines.