Years ago, in an episode of the Permaculture Podcast, the host joked that Computer Science was less science and more superstition and witchcraft. That had a familiar ring to it.
Several years earlier, I had started a new job at a company which was almost entirely Windows based (all my previous jobs had been primarily Unix). One day I was trying to track down a complicated problem. I asked my boss if there were any more diagnostic tools at hand which would help, to which he responded “would the problem go away if the computer is rebooted?” Most likely, but that won’t fix the root prob- “Then reboot the computer, it’s Windows, people are used to that. Don’t waste your time debugging.” I verbally agreed, but in my head I thought “how are things supposed to get better if we do that?”
Fast forward two decades… our lives have become awash in pervasive and increasingly complicated devices. Every day, we encounter strange problems: Spinners which never stop, devices which won’t connect, blank screens, mysterious crashes. Why these happen is a topic for a different day. But how do you troubleshoot it? Google the problem and you’ll find numerous articles which are a variation on this theme:
- Make sure the device is turned on.
- Check that you are doing it right. Try again.
- Close the application, and restart.
- Turn the network off and on.
- Update the application.
- Restart your device.
- Try changing setting X. Then setting Y (navigate through 8 different screens to get to it). Restart again.
- Clear all application data.
- Uninstall the application, reinstall, this time using your left hand.
- Hop on one foot in a circle. Clockwise twice, counter-clockwise three times. Reverse that in the southern hemisphere.
- Reset to factory defaults.
- Save your data before doing that, oh, too late.
- Buy a new device.
I may be exagerating a bit… but not much, here’s an example and another. I know I’ve seen others, I’m sure you have too. Feel free to post others in the comments.
But the upshot of this is that nobody knows what is going wrong. All these so-called “troubleshooting” steps are just guesses and workarounds for a wide variety of bugs which are unlikely to ever be fixed. Nobody cares. Just keep rebooting until it works or until there’s an update which breaks other things. The next big version will change everything, anyway, so why bother fixing it? Buy the next latest and greatest gadget, repeat ad nauseum.