Moore’s Law dictates that computer hardware capabilities double every 18 months, effectively rendering older technology obsolete rather quickly. In this extremely fast-paced technology environment, software has a heck of a time keeping up. More often than not in the rush to make new programs available for the newest system, developers aren’t able to fully harness the hardware’s capabilities. In addition to this rush, new system architecture sometimes requires programs to be re-written to prevent from being rendered obsolete. The result is that programs never become more usable per sé, rather they are sold as the same program as before with more features added in each new release.
Because of this feature creation-fest we have extremely powerful software that requires users to read thick volumes of literature in order to learn how to use it. A guide to Adobe Photoshop Elements (the really stripped-down version of normal Photoshop), for example, tops out at over 400 pages. Imagine the guide to the full Photoshop experience!
Amateur professionals simply do not have time to read 700+ page manuals or guide books to software that will be obsolete in 18 months. These days, to really know how to use a powerful piece of software, you have to either go to school and learn it or have a job that trains you in it. Preferably both.
Regardless, the software and hardware makers still tout their products to hobbyists as “powerful tools for the amateur professional” or some other equally catchy tag line. Just because a product is available, however, doesn’t mean that it is for everyone, as evidenced by the number of people who buy high-end Macs only to find out that learning Final Cut Pro takes a lot of time. They paid for their $5000 setup with a credit card, and now they have to offload it before the bills start to pile up on a piece of incredibly powerful technology that they cannot harness. My own PowerMac G4, for example, I bought from a guy in his late twenties who admitted that he “bought it for music production before [he] realized that [he] had no idea how to use Pro Tools.” Expensive technology, surprisingly, didn’t help him become a better musician.
Buying expensive tools does not make up for lack of talent or drive. Technology cannot solve those problems. If I aspire to be a professional photographer, buying a $1500 SLR camera might make my color look a little better or my pictures more in-focus, but it cannot improve my framing, lighting, or ability to be in the right spot at the right time to nab that action shot. If I don’t have the motivation and humility to take a bazillion pictures and study them relentlessly, owning a $1500 camera will only make me feel bad about having another expensive toy that I don’t use. I would probably sell it and use the money to buy something I actually need, like food.
We can see this over-reliance on technology in other media as well. The popular day-time T.V. show “The Doctors” recently aired an episode in which a panel of doctors fielded questions from the audience related to sexual performance and other topics of that nature. It was billed as a kind of “we’ll answer those questions that you are to embarrassed to ask your partner” type of episode. Really, society at large? Really?
Never mind actually communicating with your partner. Never mind having an open channel in which you can broach such topics as these. No, please take those questions and ask them in front of a TV audience, because that makes for good entertainment. You will get your answer, thanks to the technology of daytime T.V., and your partner will be none the wiser!
If you still don’t think this is a problem, consider the 12/15/08 Dear Abby column.
DEAR ABBY: My adult daughter, "Marsha," lives at home and will walk in and start a conversation or tell me something while I'm watching the news or some other show I'm interested in. Marsha never seems to arrive during commercials, which I'd gladly skip.
If I don't stop what I'm doing and pay full attention to her, she becomes offended. I feel she is interrupting. Who's right?
-- JAMES IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
DEAR JAMES: You are. However, a compromise might be to invest in a digital video recorder. That way you can "pause" whatever you're watching and return to it when interrupted.
Talking this issue through with his daughter is apparently too much to ask. Buying a TiVo is an easy solution, and hey!, it only costs some money. Apparently if you throw enough money at a problem or use technology creatively, it will go away? I wish that were true.
The truth is that investing effort in something is usually the only way to make it truly valuable. This is the same whether you’re talking about relationships, social problems, or even making a good movie or record album. Technology can be a great tool in helping you such things, but when reliance on technology becomes thought of as a shortcut to success, the result can only be disappointment.
Allow me to wrap up with a personal story. When I was in 9th grade, I discovered file sharing networks. This was during the "golden age" of file sharing before it was all deemed a legal threat. Immediately I was granted access to a huge library of “free” powerful software applications used by professional studios all over the world. My cable modem spent untold hours as my faithful slave, bringing me Adobe Photoshop 6, 3D Studio Max, FruityLoops, and AutoCAD, among others. I eagerly installed them, but then I hit a wall. What was I going to do with them? I wasn’t particularly creative, either artistically or musically. I had no interest in industrial design or 3D rendering. Professionals used this software because it allowed them to do what they loved to do - they used it out of necessity. I was a 15 year-old kid who wanted to say he had experience with expensive software applications. I fiddled around with the programs for a bit, but then when I found out that they were incredibly complicated, I lost interest. I had no time to read thick books. I had no real drive to learn Photoshop. I just liked it because I could put weird warping effects on peoples’ faces. I used maybe 1% of the total features available to me.
I currently use Photoshop 5.5 and Illustrator 9 on my PowerMac G4, mainly to produce the three-panel comics that I post on this site. These are old versions, but I don’t care. I use Photoshop for resizing, adjusting color, and very light editing. Version 5.5 helps me accomplish that. I chose Photoshop over free editing programs like GIMP because, though GIMP may be advanced, it would require me to learn a new user interface. I don’t want to do that. Learning Photoshop for my Yearbook class took me long enough as it did, and if I have to settle for a cheap, outdated copy of Photoshop because of my refusal to re-learn a new program, so be it. At least I know how to use it for what I want it to do, which I think is certainly more than can be said for the guy trying to pawn off his quad-core Mac Pro on Craigslist.