Your mom is a tech ninja
What makes someone “good at technology?” In part, it’s an understanding of the underlying technical principles and industry conventions — what a “power on” icon looks like, say. I have a lot of that. But there’s another component, one that’s often invisible to people like me: the extent to which your technology was designed to suit your needs.
I have a lot of that, too. I’m a 50 year old, middle-class, tech-industry adjacent professional man with an honorary PhD in computer science. Not only do tech designers think like and about me when they create new products — they often ask me what I think I need.
Several times per year, I’ll get on a call with product managers and researchers at both big and small tech companies to discuss some planned product. I am good at tech, but tech is also good at me. It doesn’t just meet me halfway — it bends over backwards to meet my needs.
Some years ago, I joined the advisory board for Simply Secure, a nonprofit that helps tech designers build strong security tools that are intended to be usable by non-technical people.
In my first call with the org’s founder, Meredith Whittaker, I suggested a slogan for the products we helped with: “So easy, even your boss can use them.” You see, I’ve been an IT manager, and in that rule, I’ve had to institute security policies, like minimum standards for passwords, mandatory VPN usage, and other important (but often cumbersome) measures.
In these circumstances, I always did my best to explain to my co-workers that these measures were not me being high-handed or sadistic, loading them up with pointless busywork. I tried really hard — with pretty good success — to convey the rationale behind these measures and the risk I was trying to mitigate.
This isn’t just a matter of being respectful to the people I was working to protect, it was also key to that protection — when people don’t accept security measures, they circumvent them. As this amazing ethnography of security-bypassing medical professionals puts it, “You Want My Password or a Dead Patient?”