The Fix Isn't In

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print
Tech problems

It seems that every new or improved device or app introduces new problems. Any incremental gains are often offset by the time required to manage and fix things.

There's no shortage of cool and amazing devices, apps and capabilities these days. Home automation is taking off, vehicles are racing into the future, and smartphones just keep getting smarter. It's safe to say that we live in truly amazing times.

However, it's also apparent that we spend a significant amount of time fixing things—mostly electronic ones. A half century ago, a television might require a service call every few years, or a toaster might require a new cord after a decade.

Today, we live in a perpetual state of tech support. A day doesn't pass without a glitch, problem or total disaster.

Right now, I can't get all my music and movies to appear on all my devices, despite using Apple's iCloud and its syncing capabilities. Alas, I have multiple Apple IDs, and Apple doesn't offer a way to merge them.

There is a fix, but it takes some time. Then, when I change or reset a device, the situation reverts. I've given up.

My financial program, iBank, has somehow generated duplicate accounts, and when it downloads transactional banking and credit card data, things appear slightly differently in the various accounts. As a result, I honestly don't know whether reports are accurate, and I have no idea what, if anything, I can safely delete.

Some days, my Harmony remote software on the iPhone works; some days it doesn't. Usually, I can unplug and re-plug the hub and it fixes the problem. The TV and DVD player switch on most of the time—but not always. Sometimes, the remote just stops working and then magically starts again.

A few days ago, two networked HP printers stopped working with my computer, and I couldn't reconnect them. I reinstalled the print drivers and … nothing happened. Then, a couple of days later, inexplicably, the printers showed up and worked perfectly.

Now my laptop isn't backing up data automatically.

You get the idea. I could go on and on. The situation probably isn't a lot different in your home.

Fixing one or two things isn't a problem. Fixing two or three things a day, almost every day, is a huge problem—especially when it sometimes involves 30- to 45-minute tech support calls.

Let's face it: Every dip in the electronic honey pot introduces new problems and greater complexities. Any incremental gains—and one must wonder whether the vast majority of these devices and apps provide truly tangible benefits—are eventually offset by the exponentially greater time demands required to manage and fix things. At some point, it becomes clear that the solution is the problem.

This article was originally published on 2015-07-31
Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).
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