Technology has its limits – or you break it, you buy it

Remember when you were young and walked into a store with breakable stuff? I bet your mom said the same thing mine did, “Put your hands in your pockets and keep them there.”  Before my parents got into showing dogs, they went antiquing, so I heard this comment a lot.

Yes I grew up in a house with a lot of dogs and a lot of antiques. My mom would have told the dogs to keep their paws in their pockets, but alas, no overalls. Perhaps this is why I am a bit like a bull in a china shop, but I never actually break anything?  But I digress.

Why am I telling you this?

I was driven to recall those days when I read an interesting post by MG Siegler in which he discusses a power user who likes to push technology to its limits and then complain about the limits. I am not familiar with the person Mr. Siegler discusses, but I am certainly familiar with the concept.

How much of your technology do you actually use?

Most people barely use their technology. This is why I find it somewhat intriguing that technology companies manage to convince people they need the shiniest newest piece of technology off the shelf.

No, most people don’t need the newest technology. When people ask me what they need for a new computer I most certainly don’t tell them they need the $5,000 kick-butt super powered computer. Sure, some people do, but most will do just fine with about $1500 these days for a desktop. (If you are looking for a computer see my post on the subject.)

Reaching the maximum

There are people however, who for whatever reason, max out certain aspects of their technology and then are utterly furious when they reach that maximum. Here’s the reality. Technology that is made for the public is, well, made for the public. It is made for the average user who is expected to use it in a certain way.

If many users start using that technology in a way that was not expected by the creators, well, that is where upgrades or fixes come in. When you reach the limits of technology, whether it is hardware or software, you will see problems; that is because whatever you are asking that technology to do is beyond what it was programmed to do.

The case of the disappearing emails of my friend X

A certain item comes to mind, and I don’t think the person will mind if I use her as an example (though I won’t name her.) In this particular case the person, I’ll call her X, found emails consistently disappearing. I was only aware of the problem because I ended up being impacted by it. I would somewhat frequently receive a frantic email or call asking me to provide whatever information it was that the person lost, since my emails seemed to be in the affected group. In fact, a lot of PBI folks seemed to be affected by this person’s email issue.  At the time I thought it was very odd, but I didn’t worry about it too much and I didn’t give it any thought or try to solve it for X.

Memory and Outlook? What in the what now?

Flash forward to now.  I should mention that while I am a law practice management consultant, I don’t generally perform technology trouble shooting. Not because I can’t, but because it just isn’t my focus. But the problem with X arose again in a different way. She had moved to the cloud version of exchange and in trying to recreate her rules was getting a frequent error that told her there was a memory issue with the rules.

I put on my Sherlock cap

Like many attorneys I happen to like conducting research and finding answers. This is an important personality trait if you are going to perform legal research and discover solutions to problems. So my response now was, hmmm, interesting. Also, since I had moved X to exchange I felt I had to solve the problem, and quickly, because X really needs her rules and I knew that.

A little Web research gave me the answer. X had reached the intended limits of the technology. Microsoft Outlook has a memory limit for its email rules. The limit for the plain old ordinary on your computer version of Outlook is 64kb, the cloud version has a limit of 32kb. Fortunately, Microsoft can raise the memory limit considerably higher on the cloud version, up to 128kb. I learned on the phone that the change to 64 is easily done and the change to 128 requires special permission. So the 64 is done on X’s account and we are awaiting the 128, X needs it. If you recall, she was already having issues when she had access to 64.

I tell X

I’ll never forget what X told me when I explained why she was having the memory issue, and also when I explained to her that I had solved the issue of why emails were disappearing previously.  “It wasn’t that they were disappearing,” I explained, “it was that they weren’t filtering.” Something I showed her when I simply had her do a search for an email that went missing.

X responds

X’s first response was relief that she hadn’t been nuts and the emails really were not in their appropriate folders.  Her second response was that Microsoft was stupid for having the limit.

I laughed and responded to the effect that Microsoft has a limit because all technology has a limit. And they limit it to be beyond what they expect the average user will do. Being a fair sort, X agreed and was amused that she managed to reach the limits of any piece of software. Actually she was rather proud.

Be fair

So here’s the thing. Technology has limits. You might not agree with those limits because you reach them, but before you become overly critical, take a look around. Are many other people reaching those limits, or is it just you? In the case of X, I actually didn’t find many articles on the subject of rule memory limitations in Outlook. It took me a couple of minutes and the best information came from Microsoft itself.

So keep this in mind. If you paid to have the technology developed, by all means, get on the phone and get it fixed. But if you are using mass marketed technology can you really expect the technology to be designed for the way you use it? Is that really fair?

Suggested solutions

Now one thing that I will say is that the technology providers should have clear, findable information about the limits of the technology. No error showed up for X that told her why her emails were disappearing. She could have avoided a lot of stress if Outlook simply informed her, as it did in exchange, that she had reached the memory limit.

If you encounter a true limit to a piece of technology, do a bit of research and find out if that limit can be altered. If not, contact the creator of the technology and mention that you reached the limit and would appreciate if they considered altering it for the future. If they get enough requests they just might make the change in the next version.


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