10 tech­nol­ogy myths busted!


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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.

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