In this video, 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft talks with tech industry insiders, like Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens, New York Times technology columnist David Pogue, and computer science professor Dr. Donald Norman, about the increasing complexity of our gadgetry and the IT support industry that it has spawned.
I won't deny that many individuals will never be able, or want, to set up their own computers and gadgets. Yet, I can't help but wonder if at some point society's need for support techs will wane or at least shift focus.
First, engineers and designers are producing more user friendly electronics. True, many devices have poorly written or badly translated manuals and feature creep makes devices more complicated than necessary. But, I think you'll see more devices like the iPod, Kindle, and Flip video camera. The market will reward manufacturers that produce devices the average individual can use.
Second, the average individual is increasingly tech savvy. Most people may not be cracking open their gadgets on a regular basis, but even my 6-year-old daughter can operate her laptop, our Wii, and the DVR. This trend will only accelerate.
Third, computers are repaired less frequently and cost less to purchase. Just 30 years ago, broken televisions were often fixed instead of being scrapped. Now, only high-end models are considered worthy of repair. The same trend seems to hold true for computer equipment and gadgetry. When faced with a $200 repair for a 3-year-old laptop, most individuals I know will just buy a new one for $300—unless the unit is still covered by a warranty. Environmental concerns and changes in the global economic landscape may put pressure on the market for low-priced electronics, but in many instances it will still be "cheaper" for the consumer to recycle their broken devices and purchase new equipment than it would be to fix their broken kit.
Does this mean most techs are doomed to the fate that's befallen the TV repair person? Not necessarily. In fact, support pros are just the current incarnation of the TV tech—they've just shifted focus. Instead of replacing vacuum tubes, they replace hard drives and help users recover their critical data. But eventually, computers and gadgets will be easier to use and people will store their data in the cloud—eliminating two support tasks I just mentioned. This is why geeks will need to adapt and find new markets. Just as we always have done. So, what do you think?
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.