Switching off & on again – it’s here to stay

“Have you tried switching off and on again?” is usually the first question you are asked when you explain that something isn’t working. And of course it usually works.

On sensing my frustration at a spreadsheet which somehow “wasn’t working”, my six year old son suggested that I switch the computer off & on again. It was then that I realised just how ingrained and natural this behaviour has become.power_button

As systems have become ever more complex, failure mechanisms have become ever more difficult to detect. The problem is not confined to PCs of course, since software is so ubiquitous, embedded into almost everything we use.

Despite the best efforts of software developers, errors occur. As the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in, all but the most critical, irritating, frequent or dangerous errors often remain in the code. I have no doubt that diligent software developers will do all they can to create high quality, stable software, but it must be hugely reassuring to know that in the worst case, a power-cycle will reset all variables to plausible values.

So what’s the long-term prognosis for this condition? Will there ever be a time when a power-cycle won’t be needed? Based on the continued increase in complexity of software systems, I’d suggest this is unlikely.

Perhaps the (much) bigger problem to solve is not a technical one – it’s the re-education of the user. I can imagine that many years after power-cycling becomes completely unnecessary (hypothetically), there will still be helpful souls passing on “advice” perpetuating the myth that switching off and on again “usually works”.

One only has to understand the nature of Old Wives’ Tales to recognise how difficult it can be to eradicate certain beliefs. Try searching on the web for any of the following:

  • Can I overcharge my battery?
  • Does champagne keep longer if I put a spoon in the bottle?
  • Do carrots help you see in the dark?

Looking at the evidence, I feel pretty confident in suggesting that the power-cycle is here to stay:

  • Technology doesn’t seem to be doing anything to make it redundant.
  • Re-educating users is likely to be an even bigger problem to resolve.

What do you think about this? Do you agree? Please add a comment with your thoughts.

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