The Framework is the most exciting laptop I’ve ever broken

If you only pay attention to how things work, you’ll be screwed when they fail.

Cory Doctorow

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A disassembled Framework laptop; a man’s hand reaches into the shot with a replacement screen.

From the moment I started using computers, I wanted to help other people use them. I was everyone’s tech support for years, which prepared me for the decade or so when I was a CIO-for-hire. In the early days of the internet, I spent endless hours helping my BBS friends find their way onto the net.

Helping other people use technology requires humility: you have to want to help them realize their goals, which may be totally unlike your own. You have to listen carefully and take care not to make assumptions about how they “should” use tech. You may be a tech expert, but they are experts on themselves.

This is a balancing act, because it’s possible to be too deferential to someone else’s needs. As much as other people know about how they want technology to work, if you’re their guide, you have to help them understand how technology will fail.

For example, using the same memorable, short password for all your services works well, but it fails horribly. When one of those passwords leak, identity thieves can take over all of your friend’s accounts. They may think, “Oh, no one would bother with my account, I’ve got nothing of value,” so you have to help them understand how opportunistic attacks work.

Yes, they might never be individually targeted, but they might be targeted collectively, say, to have their social media accounts hijacked to spread malware to their contacts.

Paying attention to how things work without thinking about how they fail is a recipe for disaster. It’s the reasoning that has people plow their savings into speculative assets that are going up and up, without any theory of when that bubble might pop and leave them ruined.

It’s hard to learn about failure without experiencing it, so those of us who have lived through failures have a duty to help the people we care about understand those calamities without living through them themselves.

That’s why, for two decades, I’ve always bought my hardware with an eye to how it fails every bit as much as how it works. Back when I was a Mac user — and supporting…

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