Re: Charlie Stross has it right
"Hang on a minute. No, people don't need to know how heat exchangers work to own a fridge. But if it breaks they should expect to have to buy another. People who buy cars expect to pay to have it serviced. They expect it to break if they don't bother servicing it (or at least they should). Yet they expect computers, which they don't understand, just to work forever?
I don't think it's that they all expect them to work forever, although some do, I grant you. And they think that you volunteering to fix one problem gives them free lifetime support for everything else, but that's a discussion for another day.
The problem is that a brand new fridge can still pack up after a week. A newly serviced car can still break down. And a well-maintained computer can still fall victim to a subtle drive-by or a zero day exploit. The difference is that people know when, and to a certain extent understand why, their appliances or vehicles have gone wrong. The food spoils or the wheels won't turn. It's different with IT, and especially well-crafted malware. The thing does keep on working, at least as far as the user can see.
That's part of why it's so difficult to understand. Telling someone their machine is infected with something that could be causing damage to others, and may already have compromised their credit card details, is often met with incredulity at best and indifference at worst. Because they don't understand, and in many cases can't understand. When their fridge breaks it doesn't spoil next door's food. Problematic cars don't sneak off in the middle of the night, infect other cars with the same defect then return to the driveway looking all innocent.
Computers do. And you need a reasonable level of knowledge to understand why they do. Is it fair to expect every user to have that level of knowledge? I used to believe so, but now I'm not so sure.
"As for technology being part of people's lives, yes it is. But it doesn't need to be. People don't need to be on twatbook every waking minute. Outside work, nobody actually needs computers. They help, yes, but they're not necessary."
We're in a transition phase, so right now there are perhaps arguments to be said for that. But it's changing all the time and the pace of change is increasing. Are computers necessary? Perhaps not for everyone, depending on how you define necessity. But many of the things they allow us to do are certainly convenient and the inconvenience of not having access to this technology, even at home, is becoming more significant every day. Schoolwork, bargain hunting, local government administration, customer services, service contract renewals. All things that can be done without access to the internet but for which the internet offers a much more convenient, time-saving route.
Very soon that convenience will transition into necessity. Doing things online is convenient for the parties at both ends and costs less, which makes such a transition inevitable. It's already here for a lot of cases. Have you tried shopping around for motor insurance without a browser recently?
Not everyone asked for this, but it's what we got.
"Most people who do have computers only use them for the web and web-based stuff anyway, which is why locked-down tablets, phones, and games consoles work well for most people and they're willing to pay a premium for them, just as people who can't cook are willing to pay for shitty ready meals."
That's certainly true. Tablets are definitely the way forward in the short term, and although their target profile for the bad guys is increasing as they become more popular, the more security-conscious operating systems that they ship with are helping to keep the problem to a minimum for now. At least compared with the free-for-all that exists on the more traditional platforms.
But tablets aren't without their own issues. I argued here that Apple's choice to go for a simplified, non-configurable, pretty user experience on the iPad may ultimately shift the bad guys' focus away from clever malware and back to good old fashioned social engineering. I'm still not sure which way that's going to play out.