… is indistinguishable from magic – Arthur C Clarke.

I took my car in to be serviced a few days ago. A normal 33,000 mile checkup, which I’d postponed for about 1500 miles. Not a good thing. So, I was already nervous when a fellow came out and started talking to me about “trans-axle fluid change” and “radiator back flush”. Now, I don’t know much about cars. Sure, I have some of the basic principles down–I understand in theory how internal combustion works, for example. But I really don’t know anything about the nuts and bolts of making a car work–I’ve never understood how the two front wheels in a turning car stay synchronized, even though the outer wheel goes a greater distance (or how they handle being out of synch). This is the case even though I’ve had it explained to me multiple times. Cars are complicated pieces of engineering that have taken decades of engineering to get where they are, and auto mechanics is a specialized discipline that takes years to learn.

But here’s the point. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to understand even the slightest bit of how a car converts old dinosaur bones into energy–I just want to harness that energy to go to the grocery store.

This has cost me a fair bit of money, as you can imagine, and wrecked at least one car from the inside out. I’ve learned to my cost, that you have to get the car checked out periodically, even if it makes me feel like a blithering idiot. “Sure, take care of that trans-axle fluidish stuff. You betcha.” And even if I take a car to the best shop in the world, I should still be verifying that everything is done according to the manual. Which requires me to read the manual. Which means that I have to learn something about a car. Dang it!

Now, consider computers:

Computers are complicated pieces of engineering that have taken decades of engineering to get where they are, and computer programming is a specialized discipline that takes years to learn. Learning how to interface with a computer takes time. They have their own jargon, just like automobiles. Most people (in the first world) need to use them every day.

Now I have a both a bit less and a bit more sympathy for the computer illiterate. More, because, hey, they don’t want to learn about computers–they just want to use them. I can dig that! Less, because if I can’t get
away with just driving my car, if I have to learn something about it, then they need to buck up and do the same. If they don’t, they’ll be in the same position I was at the service station–helpless before professionals.


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