The people's needsBy David Hague in Media News on Wednesday, 28th October 2020 at 10:52am
I thought a lot before writing this article. In reality, I understand it might greatly alienate me from my peers (more than I probably already am anyway), but I think it bears a few points worth telling.
And that is a risk I’ll take.
It needs a few hundred words as a preamble though.
For those that don’t know me, I have been freelance writing tech for newspapers, magazines and websites since 1986 and only went solo with my own magazine, Australian Videocamera, through circumstances I will not go into, since 2007.
From 1994-1995 I worked for Computer Television in Perth as a writer and director of video training, publishing video-based series (on tape) for Microsoft (Office, Windows), Apple (Filemaker) and Autocad.
During the period 1987–1994, I owned and ran a successful Gold Coast-based Windows/Mac software import and distribution company, and prior to that had sales and management roles with PC retailers selling NEC, IBM and Olivetti computers.
And prior to THAT, for 6 years ran Tandy Electronics stores and Computer Centres, successfully taking stores in Western Australia to the best sales and profit units in Australia multiple times.
So yes, I have been around the block a few times in terms of the tech industry and seen all sorts of developments, technologies, fads and dead ends come and go, flourish and die and be born and become mainstream.
And had major successes and some, sadly, spectacular failures much to my chagrin.
(For those trying to work out how old this “old fart” is, I’ll save you the trouble. I turned 64 this year.)
Six months ago, I was quite happy trundling along with Australian Videocamera as a bigger-than-part-time thing to keep me off the streets. And I am as they say, passionate about what I do in this area and the industry of it in general.
While not about to let me buy that Lambo and 30-foot cruiser I dream of, it is a reasonable living that allows me to indulge in my pastimes which mostly involve filmmaking anyway, around my hobbies of motorsport, fishing, a bit of travel and dogs and family.
But in August this year, fate stepped in. Not directly in the form of the BeerBug® but as a sideways consequence.
In terms of Australian Videocamera, I had never been busier as the sudden need for streaming, live conferencing and the like had been a bonus for me (and my major sponsor Blackmagic Design – I have to throw that in. If you are interested in this type of stuff, look specifically at the ATEM Mini) and so I was flat out re-visiting old skills with writing tutorials and reviews.
But an old itch got scratched I was NOT expecting.
Like I suspect many, I was a regular visitor to my local Jaycar store, and via lots of conversations, the staff there knew of my background. It turns out they were short staffed as, as has been well documented, sales of tech “stuff” has boomed over the COVID period, partly due to the sudden need for such kit due to home office needs, and partly because the sudden influx of government cash meant people were buying lots of tech.
In late August this year, the local branch manager asked me if I would like a casual job there working in sales.
So, there is that itch that was suddenly scratched.
A few extra dollars per week in the pocket and a generous staff discount scheme will always make me have a think and the lure of retail which I have always loved sealed the deal.
But here is the rub, I thought this would be for a few hours a week – maybe 10 – and I could keep doing what I was doing whilst having a bit extra pocket money and some fun in the process.
Circumstances out of my control crept in and so this has turned into thrice that amount, but thankfully due to lots of late nights and more I have managed to keep Australian Videocamera on the go without too much issue, and so far everyone – readers, vendors, advertisers etc – are happy. Indeed, reader numbers are actually up over last year by a factor of 3, so I must be doing something right!
So, what the Daffy Duck is all this leading to?
Working in a “tech store” (as against a retailer such as JB Hi-Fi, Hardly Normal, the Good Guys, Retravision or online like Kogan), it is incredibly interesting to see what the public, the very people we as tech journo and reviewers are hoping to talk to, actually think and feel and know about this “tech” stuff.
What do they come in to buy? What questions do they ask? What “stuff” don’t they “get”. And so on.
After 3 months on the floor of arguably, Australia’s major tech chain, I think I have some answers. And I suspect they will surprise you.
In terms of product type, the really BIG thing is 12v.
Fridges, lighting, solar, specifically for caravans, campers, offroaders and the like. This would amount to probably 30% of all tech sales with solar panels, batteries, charging systems, plugs (Anderson, Deutsch) and USB based stuff taking the lion’s share, along with LED lighting.
Additionally, a huge seller is 12v inverters.
Next is TV connectivity, whereby people want to connect TV and video systems to other TV and video systems in separate rooms, sheds, granny flats etc, via splitters, boosters and something I did not even know existed, Wi-Fi and Ethernet!
And Bluetooth is HUGE. Primarily fuelled by recent police crackdowns on vehicle mobile phone usage I suspect. Hands-free answering systems are, as they say, HOT.
And people want to connect things to things. All sorts of things, So “raw” plugs and adaptors of all types, shapes, flavours and colours are major line items rung through the till. Probably the largest selling product category is adaptor cables for TV, hi-fi and USB.
In a different area, STEM is very high on young parent’s lists with electronic kits and build-your-own-robots type stuff very popular, as are Arduino and Raspberry Pi beginner’s kits and add ons.
I must not forget security. This seems to be a forgotten part of mainstream tech, but trust me, the general public are VERY aware of their own personal and home-based security these days, especially Wi-Fi-based and with connectivity back to Android/iOS for monitoring. A standard system is a 6 camera IP based setup.
I have no intention of this being an advert for my part-time employer. I just find it interesting that a large part of the population – and this appears to be those over 40 by the way – is not that interested in how their smart TV works (because they do not know what it can actually do in reality), how the latest Android OS will affect their lives, what advantages (if any) upgrading to 5G will give them, or many of the other whizzbang things that seem to permeate the mainstream press and guised as “tech” for the masses will affect them.
And having thought about this long and hard, and asking many questions, it seems that is because the mainstream press in the tech area seems to tell readers what stuff IS and not what it can DO for them in the real world.
In other words, there is a lack of education in the usage of tech, whilst there is a plethora of what tech is available.
There are a few journos I know have attempted to go this extra mile – Nick Ross (especially with the NBN), Adam Turner, Alex Kidman, Leigh Stark and Anthony Caruana spring to mind.
But – and here is where I risk becoming a pariah – so many reviewers tell us what it is, how clever it is, what the tech consists of etc – but not how it can be used, help the user and so on.
My daily reality is with real people, on the floor with real problems with tech as they simply do not know what they can DO with it!
How can I digitize my old videotapes, how can I add 12v lighting to my caravan, how do I add solar panels to my camper, how do I watch the footy grand final in my shed when my Foxtel box is in the loungeroom, how do I extend my Wi-Fi, how do I get my music from CDs to my phone and then play it in the car.
I have worked out online banking via my phone but I know I can do lots of other stuff via my smartphone; I just don’t know how? Or even where to start!
How do I save my photos/videos of my grandkids from my phone so I can see them on the TV? Can I set up a security system so I can see who is at the farm gate? Can I install a solar-based system so I can turn my sprinklers on and off in the glasshouse to water the vegetables? Can I check the pump in the paddock 500 metres away so the cows have water?
Real-world tech needs.
If you look daily at Epitome as I do and have done so for more years than I care to remember, then very rarely is this stuff even mentioned.
So, I suggest, ask yourself? Are you writing for the real world or some microcosm you are a part of? If that is so, are you then doing justice to your skills as a journo to the greater world and advising?
Or as a great mentor to many people in this industry, Ian Yates, said many years ago, simply reviewing products?
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