Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Anyone who says they can't work their mobile or their Mac is just trying to draw attention to themselves

The presenter of the football programme on Five Live last night was making the usual announcements about how you could get the programme as a podcast. Guests John Motson and Steve Claridge were making the harrumphy "this is all too space-age for me" noises that men of a certain age and background seem to feel is their only appropriate response to a sentence that contains the word "podcast" or "tweet". 

How long can they - or anyone - keep this kind of thing up? They already sound like Victorian butlers whinging about the telephone. It's not the space age any more, boys. That was ages ago.

Obviously not everyone listens to podcasts. Not everyone uses Twitter. Personally, I don't like Facebook. Every time I go on there I feel as if I've stepped into a bar full of people whose names I've forgotten and immediately want to turn on my heel and leave.

I don't however pretend that I don't understand it or that it's operating on some level beyond my competence because I haven't passed the right exams or I began my education too late. Anything that's been taken up by millions of people all over the world can not be difficult to understand. 

If I don't embrace it that's my choice. I don't say "I'm a bit of a Luddite", not least because Luddites were weavers whose jobs were threatened by the advent of machines and in extreme cases they destroyed said machinery. 

I don't say "it's all too technical for me" because one of the most interesting things about the digital revolution is that it's been achieved without anyone other than a coder having to consult a technical manual at all. 

Our adoption of this technology has been so seamless that we've been taught how to use the technology by the technology itself. The only people who have trouble are people who have decided to have trouble.

Nobody has had to pore over an instruction manual to use Google or eBay or an iPhone. We may have relied on friends to show us the odd short-cut but we haven't needed anyone to tell us how to begin. It wasn't always thus. It's not that long since you had to take a day off to set-up even the most elementary item of kit.

The introduction of the Amstrad PCW 8256 back in the 80s. Now that *was* too technical for everybody. It came with two huge spiral bound books and had no hard drive. That meant you couldn't save even the smallest memo on it. You had to save it on to a removable disc. If, like me, you were a very early adopter, you only found this out after you'd lost a whole day's work.

In those days technology allowed you to get things wrong. Today you almost have to want to.


  1. While in general, I think you're right that ignorance of technology is nothing to be proud of, any more than previously proudly explaining that only the kids can programme the video recorder, I think podcasts are an exception.

    I think that podcasting in general is unnecessarily complicated.

    They're made palatible by Apple. But if you're not part of the Apple eco-system, then you can begin to struggle very quickly. Even their very name suggests to the outsider that they only work with Apple's products. Expecting everyone to understand what an RSS or XML feed is, is a little like expecting everyone to be familiar with the workings of their car. Plenty of people do understand how their car works, and may even be happy to take a spanner to it. But the vast majority leave it to paid professionals.

    And if you're not using an Apple device, then you're going to struggle. There are apps for Android, BlackBerry, Windows and Nokia phones. And there are ways of delivering podcasts to Creative or Sony mp3 players. But they're not as easy to use as Apple's solution. Their directories of podcasts tend to be poorly lacking, and the useability poor in my view.

    Yet by no means is Apple's solution a good one. There are artifical limitations placed on podcasts (E.g. You can't charge for them in iTunes even if you want; they become an "Audiobook" if you do.), the terminology is confusing, and the settings controls are all over the place (you have to look at the foot of the application as well as the menu bar).

    I am prepared to concede that since the advent of the iPhone, listening on the go has grown. And I know that my employer (Absolute Radio) has seen significant growth in podcasting, driven in large part by mobile.

    But we still live in a world where most podcasts are listened to on a computer, not a portable device. And trying to explain to someone the difference between an mp3 file that has downloaded to their computer, compared with a streaming file (which might actually be a streaming mp3), is not straightforward.

    Podcasts have succeeded in spite of their relative complexity, and not because of their ease of use.

  2. I concur David. As I'm sure Ralph and Bill would too.

  3. Good post!

    I have come across people who do this from a position of superiority. People who (stupidly) view it as a badge of honor not to be technical.

    It's as if they believe that they are so smart and concerned with such weighty matters that they can't be bothered with the 'mysteries' of technology. They can leave it to others who serve as their high tech handy men.

  4. I listen to lots of podcasts on my little mp3 player.

    I avoid iTunes though. I tried it but found it a terrible piece of software.

  5. I used to work with a "this is too technical for me!" woman, who'd turn to me for such technical advice as how to change the font size in Word.

    Ok cool, but if I ever explained something that she already knew, she'd instantly snap, "Yes, I know that. I'm not stupid."

    In the end, I always found myself too busy to help...

  6. Typical Steve claridge. Why the beeb allow muppets of this kind (see also robbie savage) on the radio to mangle the English language and contradict themselves every 10 minutes is beyond me. I wish they'd leave the bottom feeding to talksport

  7. As you imply (and to use a hideous cliché) it's hardly rocket science.

    Motson is a good deal older than Claridge and is therefore of the generation who may have simply never engaged with any sort of information or communications technology at all. Although, if he put his mind to it (and was prepared to open his mind to the fact that it might actually enhance his life), he obviously could.

    Claridge has spent his working life in professional football, an environment that, in Britain anyway, exists in a state of self-congratulatory, insular anti-intellectualism. So convention would demand that he pretend to be thick at all times.

  8. I cant understand my phone, because I bought a cheap one of Ebay; not everyone, you know can afford new apple stuff. This aint an affectation its called being working poor (note to myself .. clear my debts) Jules

    p.s. the blokes at T-Mobile and Vodaphone were perplexed as well

  9. Steve Claridge mangle the English language?

  10. It's a particular demographic as you say especially of media blokes who are the last generation where typing was woman's work its also a way of being a bit grand. I do find it annoying when likes of Motty have made a tidy living nestled at the top of a pyramid of technology ie the BBC. I remember Andy Hamilton saying much the same in the Word bragging about never trning on a pc presumably he has long suffering wife who books plane tickets, rail journeys and renews his Chelsea seat.

  11. I understand it well enough, I just don't care about it and my eyes glaze over when people start banging on about Twitter or the latest bloody iPhone.

    And I work at a tech magazine!