I’m a geek. It’s not just the domain I used to use, but it’s a the truth at the core of myself. I’m also a gadgeteer: if there’s a new gadget that may do something I’m interested in, and I can afford it, I’ll have it (sometimes even if I can barely afford it). I love “toys” and novelties, and I don’t mind if they are a bit on the rough side, “some assembly required”.
All of this, though, is sometimes hard to reconcile with the absolute vitriol I see online, among the communities that include geeks, free software activists, privacy activists and so on.
I sometimes still hear a lot of people complaining about websites optimizing for mobile, sometimes to the disadvantage of 32″ 4K HiDPI monitors — despite the fact that the latter are definitely in a minority of use cases, while the former is the new reality of web access. I do understand that sometimes it’s bothersome just how messy some websites become when they decide to focus primarily on mobile, but there are plenty of cases in which a “mobile-first” point of view is just what people are more likely to need, and ignoring this can be actively harmful.
Let me try to build up an example, which may sound a bit contrived but I would expect to be very realistic.
As you now know, I now live in London, and things here are different than in Ireland. In particular, I can no longer just drop by the pharmacy every other week and go “Just refill me in on this stuff please”. Instead I need to order the prescription to the pharmacy by going online, to the portal of the service provider my surgery contracted, and fill in the form. Then I need to note down when the stuff will be available and go pick it up.
The service provider that my surgery is using did not do a particularly good job in the UI/UX of their product. The website is definitely not mobile optimised, it does not integrate with anything and does not send email reminders for anything, let alone ICS attachments. And when I spoke about that with friends and colleagues, reactions were mixed between the «Why would they spend time on mobile? It’s just fancy stuff» and «Only geeks would care about receiving ICS attachments».
I disagree because the thing is, I can definitely see myself taking the last pills from the blister while on vacation and remembering I need to order more — but I probably don’t have my computer at hand. Being able to just go on the mobile website (or app) and ordering them on the fly can easily be a lifesaver, particularly for people who don’t usually travel with their laptop at all.
And similarly, if I were to ask people about the ICS attachments themselves they would probably wonder what the heck am I talking about, but ask people if they’d appreciate their calendar to show when they are meant to pick up their prescription, or when they have an appointment with their GP, and they probably would go “Yes, please!”
Let me take another example: the Internet of Things. Of course it’s a buzzword, nowadays, but it does not come out of nowhere. The concept of home automation (which in Italian actually takes the word “domotica” for well over 20 years) is not new and it’s not just a matter of being the trend of the year.
While there indeed are a number of “connected things” ideas that make me raise eyebrow or frown on “what the heck were they thinking?”, dissing the ideas tout-court just because they are, well, “connected things” is, in my opinion, short sighted.
I don’t remember if it was Samsung, LG, or whoever else, that proposed first on the market a fridge with an Internet-connected webcam, so that you can check on what you have inside. I heard people complain that it’s just a gimmick and for the lazy — but I could definitely see myself using it. See something on sale at the supermarket, which you didn’t put on the list? Do you remember if you have enough space to put it in the fridge, or if it would be wasted?
Plenty of the solutions that relate around Internet of Things are indeed easy to disavow as “lazy” – I would love to have a washing machine that could be started while I’m the bus because I forgot to do so before leaving the apartment – but at the same time, they are very valuable for people who do have real problems with remembering about things later on. It does not strictly have to be available from the phone in the middle of London — if my phone could, once I get home, remind me “The dishwasher is done. The washing machine is done. You’re out of milk. You need to take out the trash”, that would make my day.
But instead of saying “Hey folks, we need better, safer products!”, I see lots of geeks just going “That’s the Internet of Shit for you, why would you want your coffee machine connected to the Internet?” — like this was never dreamed of by geeks. Or insisting that, since “Internet of Things” is a marketing term, it is cursed and everything that relates to it is “ungeek”.
From my point of view, a lot of these people are those that are now looking down on iPhone users, but were sending email instead of text messages back when you had to use WAP to access anything mobile.
Stop blaming the users. Accept that you may not like or have a need for something but someone else might want it anyway. And if you really want to help, start figuring out how we can make things more secure by default instead of making fun of those that get burnt by the latest vulnerability.