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When Technology Fails

When Technology Fails

April 7, 2021
When Technology Fails

“The good news about computers is that they do what you tell them to do. The bad news is that they do what you tell them to do.” —Ted Nelson 

I believe it’s safe to say that many of us have a love-hate relationship with technology in this day and age. And, rightfully so. After all, most of us have been relying on technology for everyday use for several years; well, many decades, actually. Whether it’s the flip of a light switch or the buttons on a remote control device, we expect that it will not fail us. Or perhaps it’s an email sent or received or communicating via voice or video on a smartphone. We trust and expect technology to be there for us. For many people now, survivability means having to conduct business online or teaching classrooms in a virtual setting.

Simply put, most of us rely on it to survive the hustle and bustle of everyday life as we know it today. And as long as everything is working smoothly and operating as expected, all is well with the world. But what happens when technology fails? All it takes is a glitch with the Internet, a simple power outage, or even a laptop screen that suddenly fizzles out to turn our world upside down. Before we go down that path of “what ifs,” let’s start with a very brief “timeline” of how computer technology has evolved.

How we’ve evolved with computer technology

When looking up the history of computers, I was fascinated to learn that computer technology development dates back to more than 2,000 years ago, during the 4th Century when the Babylonians invented the first “computer” known as the abacus. The abacus was used extensively in many different ancient cultures for making fast astronomical and arithmetic calculations. It would be centuries before other developments of computer technology were introduced. From the first calculator versions between the years of 1600 and 1900 to the first IBM tabulating machine, described as a “supercomputer” in the 1920s, and the first commercially available computer in the 1940s, computer technology has evolved at a rapid rate of speed since then.

Fast-forward to the computer technology breakthrough in the 1950s with the introduction of transistors, which proved to be the beginning of the computer revolution. Thereby leading to the invention of the first microprocessor in 1971, which made it possible for microcomputers and minicomputers to exist and, eventually (several years later) making it possible for almost anyone to have their own computer.

The first minicomputer was the Altair 8800 but needed personal software to use it, which eventually brought Microsoft’s creation in 1975. It didn’t take long to develop other microcomputers, including Apple, the TRS-80, and the IBM PC. This kickstarted the race between Apple and IBM, who provided the home market with user-friendly personal computers.

Clearly, computers have come a very long way from the seemingly simple abacus invented in ancient times and the very large calculating machines developed during the World War II period. They have also become far more efficient and easier to use than before, allowing multi-generational users to use computers for many purposes. In fact, we carry more computing power on our smartphones now than ever before. This brings me back to the expectations we tend to have with technology and how it affects us when it suddenly stops working.

How do we react when technology doesn’t work?

Has this happened to you? You spend hours writing a new presentation, incorporating rich, advanced tools available online. You test it the night before, several times, to be sure. It’s a fun and educational presentation solely intended with the purpose of audience participation they surely will enjoy. And it’s rich with visual data and information designed to captivate the eye.

Everyone who previewed it is wowed. You. Are. Ready. 

Until the day of, the technology that is its foundation fails. Seemingly wasted hours of preparation because your laptop screen suddenly stopped working. You blame yourself–why didn’t you stick with the presentation you’d always done? The one where only speaking from the stage was necessary and required no visuals. Now, everyone is disappointed. And you’re not prepared with a Plan B. Or a Plan C, for that matter.

Technology mishaps like this happen. Not often, but when they do, it can feel debilitating and bring on a panic-stricken feeling of ‘I have no idea what to do.’ Sometimes the software malfunctions or the website server goes down, or your laptop experiences a random glitch and becomes completely non-responsive. Honestly, the reason doesn’t matter. What does matter is how we react to the situation and how we choose to come out of it on the other side.

How to manage technology failure frustration

Whether you are delivering a presentation on stage, writing your next best-selling novel, or teaching a classroom online, there are ways you can be prepared in the event of technological failure.

Here are a few suggestions for dealing with modern technology’s frustration when it breaks down:

Expect Technology Failure or Breakdown—Easier said than done, I know. However, planning for the unlikely event that technology could fail is never a bad idea. Feelings of frustration and resentment often arise from expectations not being met. Our culture promotes the idea that technology is the solution to all challenges and will always work properly and make life better. So it’s understandable that we would become particularly frustrated when technology doesn’t work. However, become mindful of your experience and pay attention to how technology does or does not work. You may be able to see it differently–that technology only works some of the time. So, resetting your expectations can help improve how you feel about technology.

Actively Plan for Technological Failure—I took a trip a while back and had high expectations of getting a presentation done while staying at the hotel. When I arrived, logged in, and began working on my laptop, my email soon crashed. After several reboots, I experienced the dreaded black screen of death on my Mac.

While I was very frustrated about this and had lost valuable time, I also followed an old habit of mine based on previous experiences: bringing printed copies of the presentation materials. This is just one example of actively planning for technological failure. Had my laptop worked as intended, I might have wasted some time and paper. But experience has taught me that technology often fails. This approach helps me make better decisions and use of my time, as well as being less frustrated or discouraged when my tech breaks.

Practice Doing Things Without Technology—This can be helpful as well as prepare you for when technology does break down. A good example of this is if you practice writing longhand on paper in case your laptop breaks down, you may find benefits to this method over typing. I often find it is better to get solid and noteworthy ideas out of my head and onto paper, even when my technology hasn’t failed. You might find that some non-technological methods may actually prove to be more effective than the technology-driven tools you currently use—at least in some situations. 

Hopefully, you’ll find these suggestions useful when exploring your options around technological failures.

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