This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.
I have wanted to pummel home printers into dust. I felt super stressed recently when I struggled to install a new internet modem. Perhaps you pray before trying to connect wireless headphones to your computer. And Siri, WHY ARE YOU SO DUMB sometimes?
It’s been 30 years since Walt Mossberg, a pioneering personal technology journalist, began his first column in The Wall Street Journal with this sentence: “Personal computers are just too hard to use, and it isn’t your fault.”
Today, many consumer electronics are more capable, less expensive and used by far more people than the PC was when Mossberg wrote those words in 1991. Some gadgets have gotten more user-friendly, too, but many of them make you want to curse and scream. And it isn’t your fault.
I know that I sound (again) like a grumpy old man. And balky headphones and printers are not the world’s most serious problems. Nevertheless, I will proceed with my grumpiness. Actually, I will leave it to Mossberg.
“If I restarted my column today, that first line from 1991 would still work, with a little modification,” he told me by email. “PCs, smartphones and tablets are relatively easy to operate — as long as you don’t change the default settings too much and do light tasks on them. Beyond that lies frustration.”
Mossberg then ran through examples of products that “remain baffling and/or maddeningly unreliable.”
Routers and modems have improved but “feel like they’re meant for the IT person,” he said. Printers have “a million issues.” Mossberg said that voice assistants were “hit or miss,” the webcams installed in computers were often of poor quality and systems to control internet-connected home devices were an “incompatible mess of puzzling and unreliable stuff.”
Why are so many technologies this maddening?
First, it is difficult to make products easy to use. And some of the backbones of our home tech, including the internet, are so rickety that it’s a miracle they work at all.
Tech companies are to blame, too. To sell us more stuff, they tend to pack in more features, which means more complexity.
Lauren Dragan, a writer for Wirecutter, The New York Times’s product recommendation site, said that some gadget companies also protect their turf and profits by making their products tricky to combine with those from other companies. Have you tried to use Apple’s AirPods headphones with an Android phone? Hahahaha. No, it doesn’t really work.
Lauren Goode, a technology writer at Wired, told me that as our favorite electronics have become more complex and we use them more, there are more chances …….