If there's one thing more important to a technology columnist than technology, it's the technology reader. The Internet has empowered technology readers as never before. Not only are e-mail...
If there’s one thing more important to a technology columnist than technology, it’s the technology reader.
The Internet has empowered technology readers as never before. Not only are e-mail messages quicker and easier to write than their print counterparts, online feedback loops offer multiple outlets for reader response. Forums, mailing lists and Web logs can turn the humblest column into a roiling controversy. The blog “revolution,” in fact, could easily be characterized as a reader revolution, since few bloggers are professional writers.
Reviewing 2004’s e-mail provides some fascinating insights into E-conomy readership. Often I get as much mail from other regions as from Seattle. Some readers write weeks after publication — in response to a Web search or forum link they’ve just come across.
I’ve come to learn that any time I mention “Microsoft” and “innovation” in the same column — no matter the context or meaning — I will hear from an abundance of readers. Toss in “open source” or “Linux,” and it’s like posting my photo on the Web as a bull’s-eye.
Writing about libraries always generates thoughtful feedback. Some comes from librarians, but one senses that just about everyone who cares about information and technology also cares about libraries. Whatever the fate of print and books in the future, no one wants to see the concept of a public place for reading, learning and thought go away.
A big no-no among technology writers in the ’80s and ’90s was mentioning the Macintosh. No matter what you said, e.g., “I love the Mac but it costs more,” or “I love the Mac but Windows has more software,” you were sure to awake the next morning with an inbox consumed by flames.
Other flash points of 2004 included offshoring (outsourcing tech jobs), the Net’s role in the presidential campaign, Windows security (or insecurity) and switching browsers from Internet Explorer to Mozilla Firefox. You can’t mention spyware even in passing without inciting hordes of horror stories from Windows “survivors.”
Nothing provoked readers more, though, than a column I would otherwise have passed off as a mere diversion from my normal technology pursuits. Seven weeks ago I wrote about our new car, a Toyota Prius, and how it wasn’t really as “smart” as it fancied itself.
I cited a number of user-interface examples, mentioning in passing how I wished an annoying beeping when the car was in reverse could be disabled. I had inquired at four Toyota dealerships and been told it could not be done.
Bam! Dozens of responses, divided neatly between the graciously cordial and the terminally annoyed, choked my inbox. Many noted that disabling the beeper was a simple matter of setting the trip odometer to ODO, powering off, powering on, holding the ODO switch for at least 10 seconds, shifting from park to reverse, then back to park, releasing the ODO switch, toggling to “b off” and powering off.
Now that’s what you call “smart”!
Scores of readers suggested the procedure, but there were two problems. First, they were cutting and pasting from an Internet guide unauthorized or approved by Toyota. Second, it didn’t work. In fact, several online posters had noted that it didn’t work.
Further inquiries uncovered several variations, none of which worked either. Finally, with a little experimentation, I managed to get the routine right. Although I still think the solution could be “smarter” — an on-off switch would be nice — I must thank my readers for steering me in the right direction.
And for those tempted to further respond, please remember one thing. I love my Prius like a Mac.
Paul Andrews is a freelance technology writer and co-author of “Gates.” He can be reached at email@example.com.