10 technology myths busted!
WE UNCOVER SOME OF THE BIGGEST FALSEHOODS AND MISCONCEPTIONS IN TECHNOLOGY
HAVE YOU EVER noticed that, sometimes, usually just before your phone rings, your speakers start emitting a static sound? That’s cellular interference, and it’s quite annoying. It’s even more annoying if it’s being blasted through your headset when you’re a member of the flight crew trying to organise irritated passengers while simultaneously preparing to launch an 80-tonne plane 12,000 metres into the air.
Not being allowed to use your phone onboard actually has nothing to do with potentially causing a crash: it’s more due to the risk of this cellular interference sound distracting flight crew. There is almost no risk of causing a plane crash because you were using your phone, but aviation authorities understandably choose to err on the side of caution.
Modern aircraft have electronics that are designed to shield them from interference from cellular communication. It’s estimated that at least half of all phones are not actually switched onto flight mode when users are asked to do so, and there remains no known flight that was adversely affected by this kind of interference. So while you could send those last few Snapchat selfies as your flight takes off, for the sake of the crew, it’s probably best not to risk it.
“USING YOUR PHONE AT THE PETROL STATION COULD CAUSE AN EXPLOSION”
Mobile phones have been held accountable for causing horrific accidents, but much like the stories of crashing planes, exploding petrol stations are also a myth. There is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that emitted radiation from a mobile phone can ignite gasoline vapours, but the rumour was propagated with the best of intentions.
Phone manufacturers started this by printing warnings about phone use near gasoline in user manuals, and in response to this, oil companies reacted with caution, with both industries working together to enforce something they felt would protect people. But once evidence had come to light to disprove the fire theory, petrol stations that chose to keep the ‘phones off’ rule did so because they’re an unwanted distraction, rather than a danger.
“VIDEO GAMES MAKE PEOPLE MORE VIOLENT”
The idea that absorbing violent content through media encourages our own violent thoughts and actions isn’t new. In fact, it’s been around since more liberal, graphic depictions of violence first appeared on the silver screen in the 1970s, with parents and conservative groups fearful of the negative impact viewing such things could have. The swift transformation of video games in the decades that followed, from family-friendly titles such as Super Mario to the R-rated Grand Theft Auto series, did nothing to allay their concerns.
Suddenly young adults, rather than just watch a person harm another in gruesome ways on the screen, could take control of an avatar and commit such virtual crimes themselves. In Grand Theft Auto — a famous example of such a game — players could even shoot or simply run down innocent bystanders for money rewards. While these games were designed purely for entertainment, gamers found their appetites for on-screen violence ever increasing so scientists decided to step in and investigate their potential impact.
Several scientific findings have been published on the topic, and at first glance, it seems like bad news for gamers. In a laboratory setting, numerous studies asserted the same conclusion: exposure to violence could invoke such behaviour in the viewer. However, a more recent comprehensive survey released in 2014 used crime statistics to debunk this view. The researchers compared rates of youth violence against consumption of violent video games and discovered the two were inversely related. The study had shown that youths were becoming less inclined to commit criminal violence with the rise of violent video games.
“IT’S BEST TO LET BATTERIES RUN OUT BEFORE RECHARGING”
THIS BATTERY MYTH, which supposedly helps to extend a device’s lifespan, is a notorious example of an incorrect piece of information that seems to endure even when it becomes outdated. And if we’re able to admit it, most of us have probably shared this ‘helpful’ tip with others, unaware that our advice will actually harm their product’s battery life rather than help it.
Most modern batteries, including all those used in our precious Apple iPhones and MacBooks, make use of Lithium-ion batteries. Compare these to traditional battery technologies and you’ll find that they are claimed to charge faster, last longer and, most importantly for addressing this myth, charge best in short ‘topping-up’ bursts. Apple measures their battery lifespans in cycles, with one cycle being equal to 100% discharge, but that doesn’t mean that you should completely drain your battery before plugging in your device. Instead, it’s best to split a charge cycle across multiple charges.
In fact, most tech advisors suggest never letting your phone battery get too low, nor too high. Not that a full-charge will be overly damaging, but consistently leaving your device plugged in until it has stored every last drop of energy can reduce its lifespan in the long term. Instead, take advantage of your device’s inbuilt charging design, which will likely be a ‘quick-charge’ to 80% and ‘trickle-charge’ from 80% to 100%. This design ensures that you can get power back quickly but stops your device from overcharging. So discard this common myth and stop waiting for your bar to empty before filling it up. Instead, keep your bar in the green, and charge from 40% to 80% for the most efficient battery life.
‘‘PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE MAKES YOUR PHONE SLOW DOWN”
CONSPIRACY THEORIES CAN be fun to discuss, but they become so much more fascinating when they contain a grain of truth. Such is the case with ‘planned obsolescence’, a manufacturer’s tactic that had been in play for decades before the term had even been invented.
In essence, planned obsolescence is a deliberate ploy by the manufacturer to limit their product’s lifespan so the consumer is forced to repeatedly pay to replace it. And to the chagrin of today’s manufacturers, conspiracy theorists often point to the infamous ‘Phoebus cartel’ of light bulb makers, who in the 1920s planned to do exactly that. But as technology has developed, attention has shifted away from light bulbs and onto smartphones, with recent theories suggesting that tech giants, such as Apple, restrict the performance of older devices in order to encourage consumers to purchase newer, more expensive models.
As this idea has inspired such widespread belief, software company Futuremark decided to put iPhones, old and new, to the test. They assessed each model’s performance every month for 18 months and found that their performance was maintained. The slowed-down performance owners had been reporting was more likely due to installing software updates released with the new models, which are designed to work optimally with the newest units.
However, in December 2017, Apple announced that their iOS software does in fact slow the performance of older iPhone models in order to preserve battery life. Old Lithium-ion batteries don’t hold their charge as well as new ones, so the programmed slowdown is a compromise to stop the battery draining too quickly and to prevent random shutdowns, which would otherwise be frustrating for users.
So is the slowing performance a scheme by manufacturers to boost profits? Not exactly. Does their approach to software updates render old models obsolete? Eventually, yes.
“MACS CANNOT GET VIRUSES”
Lots of us long for a Mac of our own, with their sleek design, sophisticated hardware and intuitive software catapulting them to the top of many wish lists. Add to that the common notion that they’re immune to viruses, and they almost sound like the perfect machine. Only, as more users are discovering, Macs are susceptible to viruses, spyware and other types of malware just like PCs.
However, this myth hasn’t arisen from nowhere. Macs do encounter much less malicious software (often abbreviated to ‘malware’) than Microsoft PCs, which has led to their inflated reputation. A primary reason for this is simply that there are more people using PCs, therefore making them the obvious target for opportunistic hackers. Today, with a growing number of Mac users around, hackers have more incentive to design viruses for Macs. However, by their very design, Macs are much better equipped to deal with possible threats, with their inbuilt security measures capable of restricting unknown applications from installing on the system. But there is no computer that is completely secure.
“MORE MEGAPIXELS MEANS BETTER PHOTOGRAPHS”
Like many tech-related myths, presenting megapixels as the sole determinant of image quality is a result of misleading marketing campaigns. And unfortunately for consumers, all the big phoneand camera-creating manufacturers have hopped onboard with this advertising strategy. But more doesn’t necessarily mean better, and in some cases, more megapixels can even make your photographs worse!
Digital cameras — unlike their predecessors that captured images using light-sensitive film — build images through pixels, which each process a small fraction of light caught by the camera’s sensors. With more pixels comes more units to capture incoming light, increasing the camera’s resolution and providing images with more detail. This can be helpful when making large prints or zooming in on images, but otherwise, you’ll notice little difference between a 7MP and 10MP camera, for example.
It’s also important to note that there are many more factors at play than just megapixels, with the camera lens, sensor, flash and software all being important elements. Plus, with more megapixels comes the requirement for more light to accurately capture the image, so a higher megapixel camera can produce lower-quality images than one with less megapixels when the other components are not up to scratch.
“SHUFFLE ON MUSIC PLAYERS IS COMPLETELY RANDOM”
SHUFFLE PLAYLISTS ARE great when we’re in an indecisive mood. Not sure what music to listen to? No problem. Just click ‘shuffle’ and the device will randomly choose songs from a playlist or library for you to listen to. Or will it? At least in the case of the music streaming service Spotify, the answer is no, it’s not quite as random as you might expect.
Instead, they’ve designed an algorithm to make your shuffle playlist seem more random than a truly random playlist would be. And as bizarre as that sounds, it makes sense when we consider that humans are very good at making patterns — even when there aren’t any. The algorithm attempts to circumvent a human invention known as ‘gambler’s fallacy’, which explains our tendency to think that, if a coin has landed on heads five times in a row, then it’s likely to land on tails on the next toss. But really, every time we flip a coin, the chances of it landing on heads or tails is more or less equal.
When we hear an artist on shuffle appear twice in quick succession, we instinctively wonder how the playlist can be random if the same artist has cropped up twice so soon. So Spotify introduced the algorithm to separate an artist’s songs in order to cater to what we perceive to be random.
“MAGNETS CAN ERASE YOUR DATA”
YOU MAY HAVE seen a piece of movie sabotage involving the use of a magnet to erase the contents of a hard drive, or you may have simply been told to keep your devices well clear of them, but this danger is largely mythical. For forms of flash memory that use solid state drives, magnetism will have no effect whatsoever, so your laptop, smartphone and USB stick are probably perfectly safe.
For hard disc drives, however, the danger is partially real. These devices create a binary code using polar alignments on the magnetic parts, so a strong enough magnet could alter the polarity and ruin the data. Myth confirmed? Not quite, as the magnet would have to be as strong as an MRI machine to have any impact. So unless your devices are going to be exposed to a super-magnet, they’ll be safe.
“QWERTY IS THE MOST EFFICIENT KEYBOARD LAYOUT AVAILABLE”
Keyboards beginning from the top left with the characters Q-W-E-R-T-Y have become ubiquitous with modern computers. And as many of us find this keyboard style easy to use, it seems appropriate that the alphabet is arranged in this way simply because it’s the most efficient. However, the QWERTY layout is actually a relic from the typewriter era.
Originally, typewriters were arranged in alphabetical order, but as commonly used letters were placed next to each other, this caused the machine to jam if these letters were struck in close succession, as the bars that pressed against the paper would collide. QWERTY was the answer to this issue, so common keys were placed further apart from one another.
However, the ‘Dvorak’ and ‘Colemak’ arrangements are arguably more efficient, as commonly used characters are placed where they can easily be reached. But given you would have to retrain your brain and fingers, most of us will probably continue to stick with QWERTY.
FOR FORMS OF FLASH MEMORY THAT USE SOLID STATE DRIVES, MAGNETISM WILL HAVE NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER, SO YOUR LAPTOP, SMARTPHONE AND USB STICK ARE PROBABLY PERFECTLY SAFE.
Mobile phones may be annoying on flights, but they won’t bring a plane down.
Using your mobile phone at a petrol station will not cause it to explode.
Contrary to popular belief, letting a modern battery’s charge fall too low is damaging for its longevity.
Although Macs can get viruses, they’re not as common as in PCs.
Camera advertisements often revolve around megapixels, but they are a measure of quantity not quality
Shuffle play prevents tracks from repeating, making it distinct from a random play feature
A magnet as powerful as an MRI scanner could destroy data on a hard disc drive.
Hard disc drives contain two magnets that control their read/write heads.