when technology fails.

I found the recent Pew study on technology failure to be an interesting read – it’s quite brief, and begins with an introduction on the early development of electricity that left me a little mystified. Minor criticism aside, it deals with an important topic – how frequently do people experience technology meltdowns, what do they do about them when they happen, and how do they feel about the malfunctions themselves? The gender and age findings are mostly not surprising (and as disappointing as usual on the gender side). Men expressed more confidence assessing and troubleshooting technology failure, while younger respondents had more confidence (if not more success) fixing problems when they occurred.

The following graphic illustrates the different methods people chose to address technology problems by category, and how frequently their issues were not able to be resolved:

I would have liked to see a more granular breakdown of the types of problems that occurred with each tool – what constituted “failure,” in each category, basically. A system crash? A dead cellphone battery? A dropped connection? The number of respondents who were able to fix their own problems in each category (+25%) leads me to believe that the threshold of technology malfunction is likely rather low.

The study focuses solely on technology hardware (computers, cell phones, internet connections, media devices), but it would be interesting to expand this to web-based technologies such as social networking and web communication tools. Finding “help” for a broken blog, website, email client, or web calling tool or resolving upload problems in Flickr or YouTube can be like pulling teeth. Incorporating such topics would have changed the study considerably, but the issues people face with these types of tools is just as intriguing… in my experience, they generally have much more obscure paths to triage and repair.

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