Editorial: Technology. Think it’s beyond you? It’s not. I Promise. Even if others think it is.

Over the last 18 months, I have had the opportunity to be at the coalface of tech. And by “tech” I mean more than just gaming and PCs/Mac with their ancillary bits and pieces.

To explain, I have had the joy of working in retail at my local Jaycar store – and it has been a combination of a lot of fun, a blast from the past, and last but not least, an eye opener.

In more ways than one.

Background 

Now I have been selling so-called “tech” since around 1982 with a 5-year stint at the now defunct Australian Tandy Electronics / Computers (Radio Shack everywhere else in the world).

NB: Don’t be fooled by the way, “Tandy” today is just a trademark owned by Kogan as is “Dick Smith”).

Then I did my penance flogging IBM and Olivetti PCs for a couple of years before getting into software distribution, having a vague notion that this newfangled “Windows” thing might take off.

Which of course it somewhat did.

As well, during all this time I was freelancing to various publications including APC, PCUser, MacWorld, The Australian, The Sunday Independent, The Courier Mail, PC Week, PCWorld etc as well as being on radio and occasionally on TV.

Pretty much the same track many of my peers also followed – and still do in many cases – such as Adam Turner, Alex Kidman et al.

I mention this just so that those that don’t know me, being a niche publisher for the last 20 years in the visual (video and camera) fields, I am not exactly high profile and therefore not that well known. But have been around the traps a bit longer than many.

See It All

And in that time, I have seen it all from the birth of the “PC” with the original Apple II, Tandy TRS-80 Model 4K, DS System 80, Commodore PET, various Ataris, TI and NEC machines and more, through to the first IBM PC and a million clones, right up until today’s powerhouses.

Over the years I have found there is a danger that in writing about this stuff and having almost unlimited access to it whether it be the latest camera or camcorder, PC, gaming console, smartphone or watch, vacuum cleaner, TV, headphones, VR or whatever, you can become blasé about it and forget the general public doesn’t have the access we do and the time, money or inclination to fully explore it before buying.

This means many things are, to paraphrase Arthur C Clarke, “indistinguishable from magic” for a lot of folks.

Certainly in the last 18 months at Jaycar I have seen this; customers in their 40s, 50s and 60s who have NO concept on how to hook their “old” DVD player to a new smart TV for example.

Or think that a Wi-fi signal somehow seems to be the panacea to solve all ills of communication between devices, or that Bluetooth magically will be accessible for a gadget that is 200 metres away.

One of the best is that a small solar panel will power everything from a garden fountain to a microwave on a camping trip.

You’d be amazed at how many people have not a clue in the world on how to take advantage of what their smartphone offers beyond taking photos (all on auto of course), texting, perhaps rudimentary banking and making the odd phone call.

And shock, horror! This even applies to people in their 20s and 30s in many cases.

But.

Wait on.. wait on. There’s some good news! (Robert Plant)

Conversely, there IS a large percentage who have “kept up with the times” (ugh, horrible phrase) and know a damn sight more than their supposed tech-savvy juniors – by a long shot. After all, as I am fond of telling people of that generation who suggest “I don’t understand tech things”, WE invented this stuff!

We were brought up with computers, ATMs, colour TV, video and DVD players, DSLR cameras, camcorders, microwaves and more.  Hell, we saw men walk on the Moon, something the current generation hasn’t ever seen.

In terms of my own core audience, video and photography and to a lesser degree drones, the science of taking images, still or moving, has not changed one iota since the original camera obscura.

Light is still light, focus is still focus and aperture is still aperture!

What has changed is the invention of the integrated circuit, or IC.

The IC – the “chip” – changed our lives forever and we have evolved with it and embraced it, so yes, we DO understand this stuff. In reality, nothing is “new”, just smaller and faster.

Marconi may not know how an iPhone works, but he would be able to use it! Newton would figure out a tracking telescope with a Canon 5D attached.

Galling

On this note, it particularly galls me the way so many categorise the group of people that are non-tech savvy based on that wonderful term “senior”. It is almost automatic that if you are older, then You Haven’t a Clue.

I have had people ask me if I need help using a self-serve EFTPOS machine at Woollies or Coles, all with a look of pity on their face because I am no longer the left-hand side of 50 or so and therefore, somehow it is all beyond me.

Conversely, I have been into stores such as JB HiFi and been served by 20 somethings (and less) who really do NOT have a clue.

“No, we don’t sell SD cards for Macs”

“No, you cannot a set of headphones with a smart TV if they aren’t Bluetooth”

Or my all-time favourite, just a simple “I’ll go and check” as they walk away never to return.

Conclusion

Back in the 80s when we first started selling disc drive based Tandy Model 1s (with 48K RAM no less!), the average purchaser was terrified they would break something, or lose everything, and half the job in post-sales was convincing them that pressing the wrong key would not bring the equivalent of a personal Armageddon.

We encouraged peopled to read the manuals and simply “have a play” with non-critical data to learn how it all came together.  If you are hesitant about a new gadget, nothing is truer today whether it be a smartphone, smart TV or anything else that is smart. Even seemingly complex things such as 3D printers or drones are not that hard to pick up.

Some will take to it like a duck to water, others take longer. But if you run at your own pace, you’ll get there.

And if you are tech-savvy, the same still applies as there is a lot of unseen power behind the façade of many items whether they be hardware, software or a combination of both. I guarantee reading the manuals will give a much broader insight into what is possible.

By the way, this is not a dig at my fellow tech writers. Most do a sterling job, and I heavily endorse the ones that have been doing this almost as long as me. Their longevity is testament to their skills and knowledge.

Having said that, there a few I personally feel take a bit much for granted in terms of what they expect you to know. And I’ll leave that there.

I, and I am sure many, would be interested in others’ thoughts on this subject. Whilst is is not strictly video / image based as a story, I feel it is a part of the whole so to speak, so please feel free to either email me or leave a comment below.

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