Hempology

Is Technology too hard? (or Be Nice to your Geek)

We spent this past Easter weekend visiting Crystal’s family in Boardman,
Oregon
. It’s a sleepy little town with only one grocery store and a hardware store
that is also the pharmacy and liquor store. Suffice to say, there isn’t a great deal
to do in Boardman, so we spend a lot of time talking (not a bad thing) with family
and friends. One of my conversations was with Crystal’s younger brother, Derrin, about
his radio show on KLAY 1180 in
the Seattle area.

Derrin is a residential loan consultant (and licensed loan originator) for Trusted
Home Mortgage
in Seattle. In January he broadcast the first installment of his
weekly radio talk show. While the show is only aired in NW Washington, his  station
has a live feed on the Internet. However, his show comes on at 4pm Pacific, which
is one of those rare moments when, more often than not, you’ll actually find me working
hard
for my
employer
. The end result being, even though I want to tune in, I usually miss
his show either because I forget about it or am busy with something else and unable
to listen.

Aside from being a world-wide broadcast radio host (isn’t the Internet great?), Derrin
is also a reasonably intelligent person and a fairly computer savvy guy. He attended
college at OSU and works
in a field heavily dependent on technology,
so I know he can get around a PC without constant hand holding. Which is why I
felt comfortable suggesting that he post the digital recordings of his shows on the
Internet. And as the (borrowing a term from Scott
Hanselman
) Chief IT Dude for all my immediate and non-immediate family, I was
merely doing what I assumed to be my duty.

Upon my recommendation, Derrin dove head-first into the shallow end and created his
own domain name and a hosted website at TheMortgageHour.com.
Shortly thereafter, I received a flood of forwarded emails from his host (which
I also recommended) with information about new accounts and instructions, along with
a question from Derrin, “what do I do now?” While skimming these messages it
became clear that even though I viewed the instructions like an experienced checker
suffering through the annoying voice prompts of a self-checkout
machine
at the grocery store, Derrin probably saw them more like I view the simple
instructions
for a new piece of Ikea furniture.
Totally uncertain where to begin.

Technology has been used, even since the beginning, to make
life easier
for humans. And as such, there is an expectation on the part of humans
that technology doesn’t work unless it seems easy. Obviously, just
like Ikea instructions, what seems easy to one person may seem quite complicated to
another.

Ultimately, Derrin’s new website led to a series of conversations between he and I
with regard to the complexity and, more specifically, his frustration with the complexity
of the current state of Internet technology. Why does he have to call me, a profession
software engineer, to figure out how to tell people about his radio program, share
a bit of mortgage info, and provide links to his recorded shows?

I believe a big part of the answer is, it’s all about the money. For instance, if
he worked for a large radio conglomerate, like Clear Channel or Entercom, they
would provide a website for him, along with an in-house IT person to take care of
any difficulties. On the other hand, he could remain independent but opt to pay big
bucks for high quality, user friendly web hosting, which would remove all the complex
parts from what he’s trying to accomplish. Instead, Derrin pays $10 a month for high
value bandwidth and server access, and hosts his site with free software written by
a community of developers that don’t get paid for their time, but rather, do it primarily
because they enjoy it – what most people would consider “a hobby.” And if he does
well, Derrin could stand to make a fair bit of money off of the hard work of those
developers’ hobbies.

But I digress…

Back to the original question, “is technology too hard?” In some ways, I think the
answer is yes – if putting up a decent website requires calling your software engineer
brother-in-law, then yes, it is too hard. But the reality is, clich├ęd or not … in
most cases you really do “get what you pay for.” So if you find yourself wanting a
faster this, an easier that, or a prettier whatsit, ask yourself a simple question
– how much and in what forms are you willing to pay? If the answer is, “not much”
or especially, “not any” – then I would encourage you to A) lower your standards and
B) always be nice to your geek.

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