Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Check Engine Light


If I say maintenance, you’ll probably think of an expensive, sophisticated device, like a car. But a car, or any complex device is just a tool, and we are surrounded by tools. We use them for almost everything, from cradle to grave and even filling those cradles.

A kitchen pot is a tool used for cooking. It is, if we maintain it as we do dishes, knives, forks, and spoons. You might not think of washing dishes as maintenance—as I’m sure you didn’t when I began this post—but it is. Tools without maintenance cease to be tools.

A step up from pots and pans are simple devices like coffee makers. Their maintenance goes beyond cleaning to replacing filters, adding coffee and water. Far more intricate is the ordinary bicycle: tires, spokes, chains, and gears. What these tools have in common is their maintenance is out in the open.

Less obvious is car maintenance. You might notice a tire going soft, but you don’t see the condition of your engine oil, spark plugs, and so on ad infinitum. However, cars have many gauges and warning lights to help. (Newer ones even tell you when tire pressure is low.)

Computer maintenance is even more concealed. And as these machines grow more complicated, so do the number of things to be maintained. The computer knows far more about what’s going on inside than any car—but where are the gauges and warning lights?

The ordinary daily maintenance around the house gets done because we can’t ignore what’s right in front of us. However, the more complex the device, the more invisible its necessary maintenance. Therefore, the less likely it will be done—unless the machine tells us what needs to be done.

You might even think the computer makers want to trick us into buying new when we could be maintaining what we have. If car makers also kept us in the dark, we’d buy new cars every year or two—the way we buy computers.

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