Posted March 15, 2006

Mistake With an iPod:
Why Tech Is So Hard to Use Even For "Techies"

Lots of people say that I am a "techie", but I'm not. I'm "tech literate," but I'm not a techie. Yes, I can install software (even on IBM Clones, which, unlike with Macs, can be a nightmarish undertaking), I can build a basic web site, I can download pictures and movies and software updates, and I regularly use the Internet and various software as part of my job. But when I needed to add memory to my computer, I had to ask a friend to install it for me -- I had no idea how to do it, and the web sites that were supposed to help confused me further. I don't understand most of what is said in magazines that cover computers and technology. I have no idea what all the acronyms associated with computers and the Internet mean, and I really don't care.

Being tech literate is nice... but I still make costly mistakes regarding technology. I try to read all the information available before I make an upgrade or a new purchase, but let's face it: software and hardware companies make finding information difficult to find, and write it in such a way that it's very difficult to understand.

I'm not alone: Elke den Ouden found in her thesis at the Technical University of Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands, as reported by Reuters in March 2006, that half of all "malfunctioning" products returned to stores by consumers are in full working order, but customers can't figure out how to operate the devices. She also gave new products to a group of managers from consumer electronics company Philips, asking them to use them over the weekend. The managers returned frustrated because they could not get the devices to work properly. Product developers, brought in to witness the struggles of average consumers, were astounded by the havoc they created. Take the iPod. I've wanted one for a long while. But as a user of old technology, I wasn't sure if I could use an iPod. The Apple Web site was no help at all -- every search lead me back to information about the newest iPod and latest software, which I cannot use on my computer. Many searches via Google, and the reading of many, many online forums, lead to me finding ONE message by a Mac user that said first or second generation iPods could be used with Macs using system 9.2.2. I found another post on another discussion board that confirmed this, so I went to eBay, and attempted to buy such.

After several tries, I was successful. Or so I thought. Yes, I bought a second generation iPod. Mini. Now, I am only too painfully aware that a second generation iPod mini is something completely different than a second generation iPod. And, as a mini, it has been especially configured to NOT be usable by older computer systems. However, it certainly could be used by an older machine, had it not been specifically configured not to -- while I cannot "see" the iPod plugged into my computer on the desktop or within my version of iTunes, and my iPod shows no connection to my computer on its screen, it certain knows it's there -- because after a night of recharging off my computer, all of the text on the iPod converted to German.

And, ofcourse, the week I tried to resell the iPod mini on eBay, Apple dropped the prices of new iPods by drastic proportions, to prices lower than what I paid for this used one.

I'm angry at myself, for not realizing the difference in the different iPod models, despite all of my research. But, as a person who frequently gets confused by family and friends for a "techie", I think it just goes to show how incredibly confusing product information is to the average person.

But I'm also really angry at Apple. The company makes its information for older machines so incredibly hard to find, in its effort to force you to get frustrated and just buy the latest hardware and software. Well, excuse me, but as an environmentalist, I find it shameful to throw away technology after only two or three years, and as someone who has to keep an eye on her budget, I cannot afford to upgrade every two or three years!

So, here sits my useless iPod. No one wants to buy it. What an expensive paperweight, and an expensive reminder of just how little I know about tech.


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