I sat on a conference call this morning that was very painful. It was painful because we were sending files to a client, and we were doing it via FTP. We had to have an FTP client, because it needed to be secure, and connect to their complex-seeming FTP server. When somebody mentioned that sending a 12 (twelve!) megabyte file was probably going to take around 40 minutes, I decided I couldn’t bear the pain anymore.
“Why aren’t we using a cloud service?” I asked. “We can just send him a link.”
“You mean like Dropbox?” came the reply. Yes, like Dropbox. Or Box.net. Or SkyDrive. Or Google Drive. Or even Evernote, for Pete’s sake. I didn’t care what we used, as long as it was simple, fast, and secure. Which all of them are.
“Yeah, let’s use that.” I said.
“Don’t you need an account for that?” was the response. Oh. Em. Gee. Now I may be a bleeding edge technologist, but it had been my assumption to this point that everyone used some kind of cloud service for files. At least everyone working in technology. I looked from one person in the room to the next, expecting someone to pipe up and say that we could use their account because I didn’t have my laptop. Instead I got blank stares, with the distinct impression that everyone thought I was going to set up a new account there and then.
“Give me a second” I said as I got up to get my laptop. Three minutes later, the client had the file.
The Sad State of Affairs
It turns out that in my fast-paced high-tech software company, most people panic when they have to send a file over 10MB. “That’s a big file!” “How do we do that?” “I don’t think we can use email.” “Should we FTP it somewhere?”. This makes me think that the technology available today to solve so many problems is very far out of the grasp of many people. And it’s not an access problem. It’s a mindset problem.
Almost everyone I know has a smartphone these days. And if they don’t, the person they’re with has one. It’s often said that these devices have more computing power than what we used to send people to the moon. The thing is, that’s not just an expression, it’s the truth.
One of my favorite recent blurbs goes something like this: “I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.” This pretty much sums up why the way we use technology makes me sad.
I see people snapping selfies and pictures of their kids all day, but when someone gives those same people a phone number or the name of a store, they scramble to find a pen and paper to write it down. People that discover and download digital music and movies, but can’t conceive of a means to learn how to change a sparkplug. People that work delivering complex software to hundreds of thousands of people, but don’t know how to share a file.
A Reason for Geeks
This is where the geeks come in. Geeks, at their heart, are the people who tinker and learn for the sake of tinkering and learning. They are the ones that learned how to program a VCR just because they could, even when they never recorded anything. They are the ones that read the manual all the way through, twice, before getting started.
Technology is right up a geeks alley. Smartphone? No problem. I have an app that will let me send an HTTP request to an API server. Why? Because I can. And someday, years from now, when I need to make an API call while having a beer with friends, I’ll know how to do it.
Geeks serve a very important purpose in todays technology economy – They are the bridge between what is possible, and what is commonplace. They are the ones who endure the pain of cutting edge technology so others don’t have to. And the smart ones make all that complexity simple.
Please Use Technology
The thing is, we’re starting to reach points where the technology is just about as simple as it can get. Want to share that file? Drag it here. Click the little button that looks like a link. Send that link to someone. Done.
There is a gap between the geeks and the mainstream that has to be filled somehow. Smart companies like Apple fill that gap with marketing. Look how simple this is. There’s an app for that.
I’m here to beg you to be a bit of a geek and fill that gap yourself. You don’t have to be able to whistle modem tunes or make Siri control your lights, but you have to have enough curiosity and determination to realize that there’s a better way to remember a phone number or share a file. Please. Use technology.