Linux, politics, and other interesting things
I don’t think that the answer is “everyone” or even “everyone other than my geeky friends“, but obviously it is a large number of people.
Many people apparently type “facebook” into Google and try to login to the first thing that they see, if it happens to not be Facebook then they whine – this became known after a Google search for “facebook login” happened to not return the Facebook login page as the first link . This blog post claims that they are not stupid  – the specific claim is that URLs etc are just too complex. I disagree, if my mother and my mother-in-law can both do better than that then I think that we should expect that a significant portion of retirees can do so and we should also expect that younger people will do better than older people.
In a more specific sense, when I was in primary school I was taught the Dewey Decimal System aka Dewey Decimal Classification. With the DDC a primary school student can look up the location of a book in the library index system (cardboard files when I was at school) and then know where to find it. After looking up a book on one occasion no-one would want to repeat the effort so the sensible thing to do is to write down the DDC index to any interesting book. The same mental processes can be used for dealing with URLs, someone might find Facebook etc through Google on the first occasion but they can then use browser bookmarks and written notes for traveling to track the URLs that interest them. I think we should expect that a typical adult nowadays should be able to complete any task that would be expected of a 10yo when I was young, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to call an adult stupid if they can’t compare to a 10yo from the early 80’s! As a specific example, while 10yo children were given assignments to look up various books in the DDC I think that an adult can be expected to work out the value of an index on their own – young children should be expected to require a little more training than adults!
Some people will claim that it’s not stupidity but ignorance. What exactly is supposed to have prevented these people from learning? Have the primary school libraries stopped teaching the DDC and most other things related to storing written knowledge? Is there supposed to be such an utter lack of computer skills in the general population that anyone who wants to learn will be unable to do so? I’m sure that there are plenty of retirees who could seek advice from my mother or my mother-in-law if they wanted to learn about such things. NB I’m not making any general comment about gender specific computer skills here, my father and my father-in-law don’t seem to use the Internet much and they aren’t the ones to complain to me when things break – so I can’t assess their skills. I am talking about four individuals and the only generalisation that I am making is that 2/4 retirees I know well seem to have good Internet skills and therefore I expect there to be a reasonable number of retirees who successfully use the Internet.
The Making Light analysis and discussion of the issue has a lot of good points (Making Light does in fact “make light”) . But does have some claims that I find really strange, one example concerns a woman who misunderstood the way the up/down buttons work to call an elevator. Misunderstanding the buttons is one thing, but she also shared her “knowledge” of elevators with others, presumably she had more than a few people try to correct her and she ignored their advice. I think that someone who ignores advice from a variety of people, ignores advice that can easily be tested (just push the elevator buttons and observe what happens), and then goes around sharing their wrong ideas seems to have clearly crossed the line separating cluelessness from stupidity.
One of the Making Light comments references the Clients From Hell blog – a summary of strange, stupid, and amusing requests that clients have made to web design companies . It seems to me that there are two noteworthy categories of anecdote on that site. One is requests that demonstrate ignorance of the work, such as requesting something significant and complex to be done in an hour. The other is requests that demonstrate contempt for the people doing the work, such as offering to pay $10 per hour. Misjudging the time taken to complete work is forgivable – if someone has the skill to accurately estimate the time required then they would be able to do the work and wouldn’t be asking for a quote for someone else to do it. Demonstrating contempt for someone that you are about to hire is stupid no matter how or why it’s done. Clients From Hell also documents people who have requests that are obviously silly, it’s understandable that someone might expect a blurry image to be sharpened as done on “CSI”, but wanting use image editing to reveal the face of a person who was facing away from the camera is simply assigning magical powers to the computer – the fact that this sort of thing is done in shows such as Star Trek says a lot about the shows in question and their viewers.
Often car metaphors are used for computers, you can be a good driver without knowing the details of how a car works – but you do have to know how the pedals, switches, and steering wheel work as well as the meanings of the various dials. You can be competent at using the Internet without knowing much about bits, bytes, assembler code, or how a CPU works – but you do need to know how the controls work and this means knowing how to type a URL.
The basic operations of browsing the web require considerably less skill than driving a car and less skill than is commonly used in operating the telephone system (including PABX systems, mobile phones, and international calls). Anyone who is unable (not unwilling) to drive a car or make any phone call other than a local direct call and yet is reasonably intelligent could be used as an example of how an intelligent person could be unable to understand some aspects of technology, I don’t think that there are many people in that situation – it’s difficult to find an adult in Australia who can’t drive a car.
Finally while it’s reasonable to be uninterested in some things, it’s not reasonable to be interested in doing something without wanting to learn how to do it properly. If typing “facebook.com” is so difficult that it exceeds someone’s level of interest in the service then they shouldn’t complain if they find that they can’t access the service. Really typing “facebook.com” into the address bar of a web browser is easier than starting the engine of a car with a manual transmission, it’s easier than filling the fuel tank of a car with the correct fuel, or figuring out when a car is due for service.
Now there are serious security issues revealed by this event. I’m sure that lots of people use similar methods to access their online banking etc. I just did a quick Google search for online banking with Australian banks, and I noticed that a few of the search results have adverts from rival banks. So it seems quite plausible that someone could trick Google into thinking that they run a bank (there are many thousands of banks in the world), run adverts competing against established banks, and phish the people who click on them.
I wonder whether the best solution would be for the banks to test the security of their customers. Then any customer who gets phished by the bank’s anti-fraud division would receive increased bank fees for the next few years and the rest of us who are less risk to the bank could receive lower fees. The current situation seems to be that my bank fees are partly determined by the need to recoup the money that the bank loses from customers who just use Google to find their bank’s web site. I would rather not pay for the stupidity of such people.
In the end all security comes down to people issues, technology just helps people do the right thing. I believe that one of the groups of stupid people on the Internet are those who believe that the Internet should be made safe for people who want to know nothing about it – not even the basic library skills that are taught to primary school students.