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Talking Point – Pet Hates and Necessary Evils

a light-hearted look at living with technology


I’ve been writing blogs for Expert for nearly three years now and I have to say that the ‘well has run dry’ on scintillating technology topics to write about. I mean really, how exciting is day-to-day technology for most people? For most of us it’s just the means to an end, the vehicle or tools we use to do our jobs. When it’s working well, which surprisingly is most of the time, it’s rarely mentioned, but when something goes wrong it’s like the end of the world on steroids.

Coping with frustration has never been one of my strong points. Nor has being patient, and it’s well known that I’m not the greatest at grasping anything that’s not obvious, logical, simple or intuitive to use, which includes some of the software that we have to use these days. Just to set the record straight, I don’t include MoST in with this lot as it’s actually pretty obvious, logical, simple and intuitive to use with a little bit of training, but then I’m probably biased, as you’d expect me to be!

I think my problems with technology go back to Lotus Notes days of the mid-eighties (now I’m really showing my age) and I was so excited when Windows was first launched in the 1990s, after all the hype, but unfortunately the euphoria didn’t last long.

My mind is just not wired for anything to do with technology. My eyes literally glaze over when anyone talks in tech speak and I drift off to another space. Maths was never my strong point, nor was physics for that matter. I’m also just the wrong generation I guess, and even though I was around, sort of, in the early days of computers that hasn’t helped either, though I do remember visiting IBM on a school trip when I was in Form Two. We saw this amazing main frame computer that took up a whole room, with a team of people in suits operating it, and it had a similar level of functionality as a basic calculator or a digital watch of today. Wow! And this was just a few years before the USA landed on the moon. Or the Nevada desert, depending on your beliefs.

So, you’re probably wondering why I’m working at Expert, a small technology company that punches well above its own weight? Yeah, well I wonder that quite a lot myself, actually. Fortunately, my role at Expert doesn’t require any form of ability when it comes to technology. Some of those who came before me in this role seemed to like fiddling with techie stuff that was probably best left to our actual techies to do, but I am definitely not one of those, and never hope to be.

My strength at Expert, if strength is the right word, is that I’m the lowest common denominator when it comes to technology. Every tech company should employ a ‘me’. I’m the one that sometimes gets to test - from an end-user’s perspective - the occasional, less-complex, new software application that we’ve developed, before it’s handed over to clients, with the reasoning that if Bev can use it, or not break it, it can be used by anyone and must be robust and fit for purpose. A bit of a back-handed compliment to me really.

It also means that I’m a good choice to communicate with those of our clients who are also not highly technical, about any issues they might be having with their technology. Though it often takes a lot of patience from our techies to actually get me to understand it first, as naturally I have very little idea of what they’re talking about most of the time. And sometimes I get it wrong and have to be rescued, but hey, don’t we all? Nobody’s perfect.

Now, most people would never admit to being useless at technology, as it’s incredibly career-limiting these days, but I’m very accepting that I’m one of the last dinosaurs out there, and I learned many years ago not to try and hide it, as it becomes very obvious pretty quickly. I’ve reached an age where I don’t have to work, will never go for another job interview, have to undertake a skills test, or suffer through a performance review. My job at Expert will be my last. You have no idea how incredibly freeing that is. Especially after slogging my innards out for years in the dog-eat-dog corporate world of past careers. Working at Expert is a breath of fresh air in comparison, even with the technology.


Social Media

Next on my list of grumbles is my relationship with social media. Apart from having a LinkedIn account, which was a requirement of a previous job, and just like Hotel California, you can check out of LinkedIn, but you can never really leave it, I’ve managed to avoid having a profile on any of the other social media platforms out there. Think of all the time I've saved over the years! [I've been wondering how much productivity increased worldwide during the FaceBook, Instagram & WhatsApp outage recently]

While social media must work fine for most people and organisations - it wouldn’t be so popular and well used if it didn’t - it’s just not for me. I’m really not interested in what other people had for dinner, what they think about the latest craze, what their cat did that was so cute/funny/terrible, or what holidays they’d like to take if it wasn’t for Covid. And as for the stupid posts where you're asked to name your first pet, favourite teacher, or whatever – wake up! It’s actually likely to be some dodgy lowlife phishing for potential passwords or identity clues from the unenlightened, who are just delighted that someone is showing an interest in them.

I’d much rather pick up the phone and talk to people if I can’t actually be with them. And I’m fine with using email to communicate – it’s private, secure, done in my own time with no pressure to respond quickly.

Having said all that, social media platforms have taken away the need to write and send postcards when you go on holiday - a huge bonus - and there are no longer drawn-out evenings watching friends’ tedious holiday slides or home movies. It’s great to hear about someone on social media alerting others to an injustice, such as the theft of a kid’s bike, which often ends up being returned as a result of the informal publicity. And the photo memories can sometimes be fun, as long as the photos of you are not taken when you look your worst (mine usually are). So, it’s not all bad, I guess, you just need to be able to sort out the information from the misinformation.

Then there’s online bullying, trolls and scams. In my day trolls were either found under a bridge with three billy goats gruff or were toys made of a strange rubbery substance, sporting bright orange hair and creepy eyes. Bullying happened in the school playground and was usually stamped out by someone in authority, the headmaster or the teacher on duty. Workplace bullying was totally unheard of in the media back then, though I can remember it happening. No-one talked about it and the bullies usually got frozen out by their colleagues until they moved on or grew up. Scams have been around forever, though it’s much easier to separate a fool from their money if it’s done on a social media site.


Online Spying

While I’ve just waxed lyrical about my feelings on technology and social media, the thing I really, really hate is the devious way that information about the things that I am interested in is captured by search engines using algorithms that were created to snoop and pry on my life choices. I’m talking about Google searches and smart phones mainly.

For example, we’ve had conversations in the office about something not work-related and neck minute, up pops an ad on one of our phones which relates to our conversation, so either it’s a gigantic coincidence or ‘they’ do actually listen in on conversations using your mobile phone as a not-so-hidden microphone. I’ve also googled things and then been bombarded with ads relating to the google search every time I read a newsfeed or open my browser.

Unsurprisingly, Alexa will never be installed in my home, and I make sure I never talk about anything private when I visit friends who have it installed. Not that I have anything to hide, but I just resent the insidious intrusion that’s wrapped up in something that’s meant to be useful. Oh, there’s no doubt that it’s useful, but to whom?

I’ve never been a conspiracy theorist, but I do start to wonder about all the personal information that is harvested by supposedly legitimate means without my permission.


Back to where this started

So, in closing, while I’ve just bagged technology, social media and online spying, there is a place or purpose for everything. We’d be lost without all those security cameras that we don’t even notice any more, to solve crimes and find missing persons; and DNA has helped enormously to bring long lost families together (along with social media of course) and solve cold cases. Most of us wouldn’t be able to work in Level 4 lockdowns without computers and access to the internet; and our lives would be a lot more dross-driven without the aid of household technology. Think dishwashers, washing machines, and on-demand home-entertainment for starters. Where would we be without the giant leaps forward in health care and diagnostics and dentistry? Doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?

So, while we’re busy thanking all the essential workers who kept us going during Covid crises, spare a thought to those who create and maintain the software you use on a daily basis and who keep your technology quietly humming away behind the scenes. Where would we be without them? Living in Bedrock with the Flintstones and the Rubbles I’m guessing…

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