Why is our Technology so Awesomely Stupid?

That’s a fairly broad and sweeping judgment, of course, but I contend, even based on my personally limited sample set, that it is true!!  Let’s take some examples…

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I have a phone that can measure how far I walk, it can monitor my eyes and scroll the screen when my eyes hit the bottom of a page, it can bump another phone and share data, it can do thousands of things. BUT… sometimes, for no reason the keyboard doesn’t have an enter button, or it says it is connected to the network and it is 100% dead to the network. So, while monitoring my eyeballs can the software actually do some checking to make sure it is really on the network?

I am logged into this web mail application and decide to send an email.  I can drag and drop files from one email to another, I can look up contacts dynamically as I type their names… but I clicked send, and this little AJAX graphic replaces ALL the buttons…and then it says “sending…” for the next couple hours until I decide to stop it.  I knew it was dead 15 seconds in, but apparently the authors of OWA didn’t cover all the conditions that could cause this thing to sit and spin for an eternity, and because they took my buttons away I can’t save it as a draft.  Thanks for that.

I’ll be loading a web page and it will hang up… just sits and spins like I don’t have a connection.  But I can open another tab on my browser and hit other sites. So my connection is working fine.  OK, I stop loading the page and hit reload…surprise, there is my web page.

We could all share similar stories of super advanced tech that still does stupid stuff.  And in my examples of stupid stuff there is this common theme of me waiting and waiting while the computer sits and spins…CPU humming at 2%, RAM at 19%…   I’ve asked something to DO something, and clearly my computer or phone or whatever is day dreaming or something.

We’ll just lovingly call this the “waiting game.” That’s what it is… we have all this power and bandwidth, we are trying to complete an action, but we are just forced to wait 5 seconds here, 30 seconds there, sometimes several minutes before retrying only to see things happen either lightning fast or see them sit and spin again.  How much time is wasted during this activity?  For me, it has to happen at least 100 times a day, maybe 200… opening email, opening a web page, sending an SMS, etc.   And each time it happens the delay is between 5 seconds and 5 minutes. let’s say the average is 15 seconds, 100 times a day.  That’s 1500 seconds – 25 minutes a day.  I bet it is more.  But let’s say 30 minutes a day across everyone using technology.

What’s that, maybe half the planet? A third? Let’s say 2 billion people experience this every day. That’s 60 billion wasted minutes a day just waiting for “stupid technology.”  I bet that number is a lot larger because when things get gummed up we invest chunks of time trying to shutdown services, or log out and back in, or reboot, or light a candle and drop-kick a frog – anything to cure the  issue. But let’s go with 60 billion minutes. . . that’s 1 billion wasted hours of effort, at minimum, per day.

Nobody cares about consumers wasting a billion hours a day, because we aren’t paying these consumers. Ah, but if they work for a living, we ARE (I feel a slight value proposition about to transpire).  Let’s say half these billion people are working, and out of a 24 hour day, they work about 1/4 of that on average.  That’s 125 million hours a day going to wast at whatever the burden rate for the company is… If that’s $1/hr that’s $125M a day.  If that’s $100/hr that’s $12B a day.  Just time spent waiting for computers/technology to realize that it isn’t going to finish the current operation and that it is time to retry.

Let’s pretend the number is in the middle, so $1.2B a day, and based on 20 working days a month we have about $288,000,000,000 going into the cosmic recycle bin per year.  Time we never get back and is being paid for (and probably over a trillion dollars a year, for those keeping track, of time consumers waste that corporations are not paying for).

It’s the year 2014.  We are supposed to have spaceships, DNA-level repair systems in the medical field, warp/worm tech, atomic food replication, nanobots, mech warriors that play air guitar and more… but we can’t get rid of the little AJAX circle of death? We can’t make computers savvy enough to say “oh, clearly this is taking too long, let me try that again….or queue it for later… .or queue up some content to entertain/inform us while we wait…or something!!!???

What’s even funnier is, this is just the tip of the time-wasting iceberg.  But, why should we care… we waste so much other time holding for customer services, or in lines, or trying to wade through gigabytes of opinions to help us make decisions, or trying to keep our gadgets up and running, sitting in rush hour, filling out redundant forms, what’s 30 minutes a day?   Surely the trillion dollars here is nothing compared to the 10 trillion/year I just described in other activities.

OK, fine, you are right…the bigger problem is the 10 trillion. I can’t argue that… but at least now it is on the table.  Oh wait… we haven’t really addressed redundancy as part of waste (other than the forms example).  But I am talking about the BIG redundancies like how many businesses are writing the same software over and over or solving the same process challenges over and over or working on the same problem in the name of “healthy” competition?  Can we put a dollar figure on that? My brain hurts.

At some point, some of my more analytic friends will try to stop my stupid technology tirade.  They will say, “Woah woah there, Ragey Mc Ragerson! Your patterns of justification are wacky… you’d be better off trying to draw a dotted line between farts and space exploration!” But deep down inside, right next to those same space-exploring farts, people know I am right.   By design, we are a very efficient species (60 Watts to power a 100 billion neurons in our brains), but as designers, we are still very wasteful… from our manufacturing methods to our governance methods, and our technology, for all the time we say it saves, is still very wasteful.

Our gadgets are the latest things, our brain stems are still tied to lizards. Until we can evolve ourselves to match our gadgets (change how we are governed, how our economy works, how our social systems work), I think our tech will continue to be a reflection of us. Brilliantly buggy.  And yes, I typed this whole post waiting for that email to send, and it never sent…so  I will waste time copying the text to a new email, reattaching the documents, and re-sending it.

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