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Let's Make Technology Easier to Use

Eric Taub

Eric Taub is the author of Does This Plug into That? Simplify Your Electronic Life. He is featured in Gary’s Book Club on Wednesday during the 2014 International CES. Be sure to hear him speak in person.

For the past 20 years, I’ve been writing about the intersection of technology and society. My goal has always been to help average consumers understand—and be interested in—the often arcane technologies that are changing their lives.

What still amazes me is how arcane many of these technologies continue to be, and how little work is being done by their creators to make things simple for the average person.

In the 1990s, an engineer at Ford told me that the way he determined where to place the air conditioning vent was not to figure out the most convenient place for the consumer, but to put it where it was easiest for the engineer to jam in the duct.

That sort of shortsightedness continues today. The world’s biggest consumer technology manufacturers write instruction manuals that are often indecipherable, selling products that include features that few will use. Products that have become ubiquitous, such as wireless routers, remain difficult to set up, requiring non-technology-inclined users to figure out which band and security protocol they should employ, when many people don’t even understand the terms.

Imagine if, in order to drive a car, you needed to know how to gap your spark plugs and change your transmission control module; if you did, many fewer cars would be on the road.

When I told friends I was writing my new book, Does This Plug into That? Simplify Your Electronic Life, the universal response was “I need that book!” Whatever one’s age, there’s a hunger to understand technology, to not be left behind when everyone is streaming video, tweeting, and Instagraming.

Yet many people are left in the dust, technology-phobes who want to embrace today’s gadgets, but who understandably are overwhelmed by the constantly changing tech landscape and frustrated that there always seems to be so much to learn.

We now have the first generation of people who are growing up knowing only  a world that includes computers and smartphones. But that’s no reason to leave everyone else behind.

Why can’t we create products that simply work, products to which as much attention to detail is placed on their functionality as their features? If this happens, I might be putting my own job out to pasture, but the world will become a much easier place to maneuver.