It's not the Technology's Fault

Well, not always… A recent case at work has reinforced an idea I have long since held that often blame is assigned to the technology (or the technical staff maintaining it) when the behaviour would be quite different if a computer was not involved.

Take this example. A presenter, let’s call him “Presenter A” (that’s not his real name, in case you hadn’t guessed) is giving a presentation in a University lecture theatre with an installed AV system and computer. Upon completing his presentation, “Presenter A” forgets to log out and leaves the desktop up on the theatre’s computer.

A few minutes later a new group (let’s call them “Student C” and friends for convenience) start to arrive for the next talk scheduled in this theatre. “Presenter B” arrives shortly later to give his talk. “Presenter B” uses the (already logged in) installed computer and runs a PowerPoint presentation from his USB stick. During the presentation he clicks on the web browser in the task bar to run a demonstration.

Unfortunately at this point the web browser opens on the large theatre projector screens to show content of an, ahem, let’s say adult nature. “Presenter B” is understandably annoyed that this has happened during his talk, but instead of the blame being laid at the door of “Presenter A”, who didn’t log out, or “Student C”, who thought opening up said webpage would be a giggle, it gets plonked squarely at the door of the IT department.

“How could IT let things like this appear on the screen during my talk?!”.

This brings me back to my original point. The fault is not with the technology or those running it. If the same situation had occurred 30 years ago- “Presenter A” finishes their talk, “Student C” draws a “humorous” picture on the blackboard, and then “Presenter B” discovers this midway through his talk- it is unlikely that the first target of any blame would be the blackboard monitor.

Blaming technology like this is widespread, we’ve all seen stories of laptops being left on trains and IT hadn’t encrypted the hard drive. The problem isn’t just that the data laptop was unencrypted, it’s that it was mislaid by its owner. If information was written in a paper notebook which was subsequently left on the 3.30 from Euston would we blame the owner of the notebook or the person who has the keys to the stationery cupboard back in the office?

Yes, computers go wrong, and yes, technology can be used to help prevent such incidents occurring, but the technology (or the techie) shouldn’t be held responsible for what are really not technology problems.