There is no better modern example of the market failing to provide what the customer both needs and wants than the computer industry. If it was driven by the customer, the computer industry would produce hardware and software which was easy to install, had continuity of use, was simple to use and was supported by adequate help lines and manuals. The industry signally fails to do any of these things.
Hardware and software are of course purchased in ever greater volume and computer services, including maintenance, continue to swell. But that is not an indication of customer satisfaction. Rather, it is simply a reflection of how computers have become an inescapable part of our lives, not only as obvious computers but also in the guise of so many of the other machines we use – everything from phones to intelligent clothes. Business and public administration have become so dependent on their use that they cannot do without them. That being so, whatever is on offer, however unsatisfactory, is bought out of sheer necessity. The computer companies have the modern world over a barrel.
It might be objected that although most people cannot completely escape computers at their work, they do not have to bring them into their private lives. Yet increasing numbers buy computers for private use.
Why do they do that if the machines are so unreliable and demanding? Simple: once a significant minority have private computers and business uses them very widely, it becomes very difficult for the rest to resist, not least because businesses and government increasingly require those dealing with them to do so by computer. But there are other pressures as well.
We have long passed the point where a handwritten document is likely to be read by most people in business unless it involves an order or payment. Now, except between social contacts, everything must be wordprocessed to be acceptable. A word processor or access to one has become a sine qua non for anyone who wishes to be taken seriously. Even amongst private individuals a letter is increasingly seen as unusual or even quaint.
With emails, we have not come to the stage that telephone ownership reached a quarter of a century ago when not to have a phone became considered eccentric, but we are rapidly moving towards it.
Employers increasingly wish to contact employees by email wherever they are and this means the choice is often between having a computer and email at home or not having a job.
Those with school age children, whatever they think of computers, find it next to impossible to deny their children not only a computer but access to the internet, both because the children want it to match their peers and because they have been brainwashed into believing that a computer is a necessary educational tool.
In short, people are increasingly being driven to become computer owners and users not because they actively want to, but because they feel isolated and excluded if they remain computerless. Again, aswith the analogy between telephones and emails, within the foreseeable future, someone without a computer is in danger of becoming in the eyes of the majority as much as an oddity as someone without a TV is now considered.