The vast majority of the world's population is technologically illiterate, and this has had a profoundly negative effect on people everywhere. Though this applies to every area of our lives in every country in the world, from the homes we live in, to the ways we transport ourselves, to the jobs we have, to the ways we think, I'll limit my comments to the computers we have in first-world countries and the ways we use them.
In a nutshell, technological illiteracy means that rather than solving our own problems individually with technology or even having the ability to evaluate others' solutions, we simply accept the first solution we are handed, or the one that is presented to us backed by the highest advertising budget. Most of us use Facebook for social networking and the Microsoft Windows operating system because these were the first solutions that were given us. These aren't the best solutions. When compared to Unix, Windows can be seen for what it is, an inefficient, bug-ridden way to lock us into a captive market. Over the last four decades, Windows has also been a method of forcing us to buy a new computer every two or three years. For each of us who have understood this, there haven been dozens and at times hundreds of others who have have been clueless. This has frequently meant that, rather than choosing the best solution, we have accepted the most expensive solution. Let's examine the effects of our technological illiteracy on our lives with our computers.
It is no secret that Bill Gate's strategy with Microsoft was to dominate the PC market. As documented extensively in books like "Hard Drive", he based his company on the idea that only Microsoft software would run on all PC's worldwide. And he came close to succeeding. The result of his vision was not only the realization of a platform that software and hardware vendors had for creating computer products for a huge group of people. It also meant that a huge group of people were locked into that platform. So, if for example, Microsoft didn't want you running Linux on a Laptop built after 2012, you probably end up with a Laptop that could not run Linux. It meant that if you wrote C++ for a living between 1995 and 2005, most likely you were stuck using Microsoft Visual Studio. If you wanted to write a document, you were most likely using Microsoft Office to do it. And all of the solutions that I just named were very expensive solutions, especially compared to the great, free solutions like Linux, CodeLite, FreeOffice, and many others. And Microsoft products, in addition to being expensive, were often buggy and hard to use.
For example, in 2013 an employer I worked for decided that we all needed to use Microsoft Visual Studio to develop our C code, so he bought three copies at $500 a piece. When I and a coworker tried to install our copies, we both were presented with the same error message, even though he was using a twelve-year-old desktop computer and I was using a one-year-old, top-of-the-line laptop. It took me two full days of searching the internet to figure out how to get Visual Studio to install, and the same solution worked for both of our computers. In other words, Microsoft had put out a very expensive C/C++ compiler/IDE that would not install on a wide variety of computers, and it had provided zero information on it's website as to how to remedy the problem. It had not even acknowledged that the problem existed.
The top most-used computer operating systems these days are Windows, Android, macOS, IOS, and Chrome. All were designed, not to give the user a great operating system for a reasonable price. They were designed by giant corporations to imprison their users in the ecosystems of those giant companies, so as to maximize their profits. Linux, which is in my opinion the best operating system today in terms of cost, performance, power, and variety of applications, was designed to provide an alternative operating system for Microsoft's customers. Unfortunately, only around one percent of people use Linux. I think the reason for this is only that about 99% of computer users don't know any better. Why else would they have locked themselves into doing business with these giant corporations that do not have their customer's best interests at heart?
These days, there is an enormous variety of computer hardware to chose from. And many of us have actually reached the point where we can pick good hardware solutions for ourselves. But many of us still don't know enough to be able to do that. We're still buying over-priced computers that are designed the way manufacturer's want them to be, not the way that is most useful to us. I've written at least two articles explaining why thin laptops are not better than thick laptops (see here and here), because so many people are making the mistake of buying them. And far too many people are still shelling out a thousand dollars or more for a laptop that works no better for their needs than a $50 used laptop. And too many people are buying Apple products. So, we still have a long way to go.
At least there are inexpensive alternatives that are widely available for people who can use them, alternatives like Raspberry Pi's, and used-but-still-useful computers on ebay. By the way, I'm writing this article on a laptop that I bought about three years ago on ebay for $55. It's been working great all that time, and I use it for most of the things I do, including writing, surfing the internet, skype, gaming, and sometimes watching DVD's and Neflix.
There are also encouraging signs that people are realizing that they no longer need expensive computers for everything they do--signs like the proliferation of inexpensive cellphones, TV set top boxes, and even inexpensive android tablets. However, it would be even better if those devices were running Linux instead of windows or android. There is also the problem that many of these products don't work all that well--especially the android TV set top boxes. But, as I've mentioned in other articles, there are ways of filtering the bad computer solutions out of your buying decisions. Unfortunately, many people still don't know how to do this, and are not even aware of the need to do so.
As I've written about before, the internet is a problem for most of us. And it's all our faults. The reason we're stuck with our current internet that is spying on everything we do online is that we use the solutions of big companies and governments, instead of the alternatives. And there are many potential alternatives that wouldn't involve organizations watching everything we do online, sucking up all our data, and locking us into services provided by monopolistic internet service providers. Despite the fact that alternative software exists, (see here), very few of us use it. The very fact that we aren't using alternative software prevents these alternatives from being much more useful. For example, Facebook exists and is so large, only because it was the first social media platform. This means that your friends are now on it. If you wanted to move to another platform, it would mean leaving your friends behind. This is also the reason we're still using fiat currencies of world governments instead of cryptocurrencies (although cryptocurrencies do have their problems). The fact is that if we were were capable of and willing to implement other solutions that favor us instead of corporations and governments, we could have a much better internet right now. But we don't have that internet, only because each of us hasn't taken the time to learn how to have it.
Many of us are aware, and all of us should be aware, that internet service providers in the United States have the next best thing to a monopoly. There are three basic reasons for this. The first is that we allow local governments to make deals with ISP's that limit the number of ISP's (usually to one or two) that can operate in an area. Since there is no real competition, these virtual monopolies can charge whatever they want for internet access and treat us as they like. The second reason is that we haven't decided to create an alternative, except in areas where the big corporations don't want to go, because they don't think they can make a big enough profit. In some of those areas, people have created alternative ISP's with mesh networks. The third reason, is that we've allowed ourselves to be pigeon-holed by the technology. We basically have three ways of accessing the internet: wired broadband (dsl or cable), wireless cellphone network broadband, and wifi. DSL, cable, and cellphone broadband require providers. And wifi is so short range as to make it virtually useless as a mesh networking technology. And to compound this, we have allow manufacturers of wifi devices to limit the power of wifi devices to around 50 milliwatts (rather than the 2000 milliwatt legal limit), limiting its range even more. The real solution to the mesh networking problem is to use the 900 MHz band (or some other band) to broadcast wifi signals with a range of miles instead of the 100 to 300 feet that we currently have. The problem is that, since we are technologically illiterate, we aren't aware of, and thus, we aren't demanding anything like this. And, so instead, we pay on average $67 per month for home internet service.
These days nearly everyone has a cellphone for voice and SMS text messages. The average cellphone bill in 2014 was $73, and the average Verizon Wireless customer paid $148 per month at the end of 2013. How many people do you think are aware that they can send an SMS text message to just about any cellphone in the world for free with a computer? How many know they have for decades been able to send a free email or make a free telephone call by ham radio? How many people do you think are using the combination of free email and cheap VOIP service instead of a cellphone for their communications? The amount people are paying is astonishing to me, because I get by just fine with free email and a VOIP phone, for which I am currently paying $6.22 a month. And my VOIP phone has voice messaging, so anyone can contact me any time they want. The only major reason I can think of that most people pay so much for communications is that they don't know any better. The only other reason that I can think of would be convenience. But if I wanted to, I could always rig up a Rasberry Pi that is always on to access my emails or text messages and probably voice communications too. Maybe someday I'll get around to doing that, but for right now, I just don't care enough. I don't care enough, because $6.22 per month is not a big deal to me. But if my only choices were a Raspberry Pi or $148 per month, I would certainly choose a Raspberry Pi. The point is that, because I'm not technologically illiterate, I have options. Those who are technologically illiterate don't.
I've already alluded to the fact that Facebook is not the only platform for social media, or even the best. It's the biggest only because it was the first. But if enough people educated themselves on the alternatives, they could change this. If they decided to instead use Diaspora, RetroShare, Movim, or others, they could. If they educated themselves to the point that they realized that they could create social media platforms that were all compatible with each other, that would allow them keep up with all their friends regardless of what platform they used, just like they do now with email, they would leave Facebook. But they don't realize this, because this is another area where they have chosen not to be technologically literate. And that illiteracy has meant that they are allowing a giant, multi-billion dollar company to suck up all of their data while they are using its easily-replaceable services.
The point that I am trying to make is not that you are a bad human being for not educating yourself technologically. I realize that takes a lot of work, and we all have lives. The point I'm trying to make is that the more every individual understands about technology, the less we all pay to use it.
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Guide to Computers and the Internet. All rights reserved.