There are many myths and half-truths about technology and as more people start to make use of everyday devices, many of the once-believed-to-be fact stories are being disproven. In the spirit of today being Friday the 13th, IT News Africa takes a look at some of the most mind-boggling myths that have been exposed as untrue, or only partially true.
1. Email is better for communicating, all the time
With the growth of many platforms to stay connected and spur on communications, email is certainly better in some situations, but not all the time. While most people have an available connection to email, it is important to note that a traditional phone call will yield results far quicker for important information. If a short answer is needed, it might be better to make use of Instant Messaging or send a message on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter.
2. Every computer user is as computer-literate as I am
As mentioned in the introduction, more people are making use of electronic devices to stay in contact or to conduct business, but not everyone is on the same level. Much of the older generation is just getting used to the idea of social networks, IM and Skype, and it cannot be expected of them to be as literate as a generation that grew up surrounded by technology. Some people also just have a knack for technology and will tinker with just about anything, but truth be told, not every computer user will know how 3D technology and smartphones work – or even email, for that matter.
3. A 64-bit Operating System will make computing twice as fast as a 32-bit system
While a computer running on a 64-bit operating System (OS) will generally run faster than a 32-bit OS, this is only a half-truth . When operating on 64-bit, the programs running on the computer also need to be compatible with the 64-bit system. Luckily most software vendors today will release separate 32-bit and 64-bit software, which will make a difference in computing speed. Running a 32-bit version on a 64-bit machine, will, however, yield almost no noticeable difference in speed – unless the machine has more than 3GB of RAM.
4. Expensive HDMI cables will improve your HDTV quality
This is a myth in which the salespeople at electronics stores love to indulge in – but in reality your HDTV will not care which HDMI cable you use. Digital audio/video standards like DisplayPort, DVI, and HDMI do not suffer from interference and disruption as an analog audio or video signal does, and only a huge drop in signal voltage will cause it to lose signal. HMDI cables are generally all made from the same material, while some claim to be gold-plated or treated with different coatings – but even if there was a difference in screen quality, it will be on a microscopic level that will be almost impossible to detect with the naked eye.
5. You always need to ‘eject’ a USB device before unplugging it
Being a half-truth, it is a valid statement only under certain conditions. The only reason why users are urged to ‘eject’ the USB before unplugging it is to make sure that whatever data was being transferred has finished copying over – otherwise the data will be corrupted. However, if the USB was plugged in to check on its contents or to move data from it, there is no need to ‘eject’ the USB, as nothing was written to it. Devices like a keyboard, mouse, printers and scanners can be plugged out without having to ‘eject’ them first – provided that they are not switched on.
6. In photography, bigger Megapixels are always better
This is another favourite sales pitch from floor staff at electronics stores, which is simply not true. Most of the time better photographs are dependent on the skill of the person actually taking the photo.
But having more megapixels (and paying more for a camera with it) does not give you a better quality photo – it only starts becoming a factor when images are hugely enlarged. “Even when megapixels mattered, there was little visible difference between cameras with seemingly different ratings. For instance, a 3-megapixel (photo) pretty much looks the same as a 6-megapixel (photo), even when blown up to” 12 inches by 18 inches,” comments photography expert Ken Rockwell. In truth, the majority of people will view their images in a standard size, where megapixels do not matter.
7. Having more bars on your mobile will give you better mobile reception
The signal bars on a mobile phone only indicates the strength of the signal from your mobile phone to the nearest mobile tower, but it is no guarantee that the service will be any better than when the mobile phone only has one bar. A user’s signal to the tower might be strong, but if there is only one tower in the area, a lot of people will be connecting to the same tower at the same time, which will cause a loss in the quality of the communication. Once your signal makes contact with the cell tower, it has to compete against other users through the service provider’s backhaul network – which could lead to poor quality.
8. Your Internet Service Provider can track everything that you do online
While it will certainly cause an outrage with digital privacy advocates, in theory it is quite possible. When connecting to the Internet, the ISP is a user’s link to the outside world, and all traffic to and from the user needs to flow through the ISP’s network of routers. So in theory, an ISP has the access and capabilities to scan user traffic, but it it is simply not feasible.
“Fortunately for us, it doesn’t have the money or the desire to archive every bit of information that comes its way. ISPs don’t routinely save the Web surfing histories and e-mail conversations of their users. It would simply be too expensive to save all of that data and the public outcry from privacy rights and civil liberties organizations would be deafening,” comments Dave Roos from Get Stuff. Some websites, however, do keep track of IP addresses, which can be traced back to individual users.
9. Airport scanners can damage a digital camera’s memory card
There simply is no truth to the myth, although some users will still be a little nervous when sending their camera and memory cards through an airport’s X-Ray scanner when coming back from a holiday to the Maldives. If scanning equipment damaged memory cards, there would be a huge outcry and regulations would have been put in place to stop it from happening, but the little plastic fellows are actually very robust. In tests conducted by Digital Camera Shopper magazine, memory cards survived a dip in a fizzy cold drink, a spin through a washing machine, being run over by a skateboard, and the playful nature of an unsuspecting six-year-old child.
10. The ‘SysRq’ button on a keyboard has an actual function
While strictly speaking not actually a fable, we could not resist the temptation to include it in our list of the biggest tech myths, as the ‘SysRq’ (System Request) key is one of the biggest mysteries since the invention of the keyboard. Ask any technology fundi what that key actually does and I guarantee they will be wrong. There is a rumor that when pressed, the computer simply registers that it has indeed been pressed – and nothing more. According to Wikipedia, it was “introduced by IBM with the PC/AT, it was intended to be available as a special key to directly invoke low-level operating system functions with no possibility of conflicting with any existing software.” But as systems started to evolve and become more complex, the key became redundant with no standard use. So much so that electronics manufacturer Lenovo started removing the ‘SysRq’ key from their keyboards in 2010.
Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor