Why ask why?

It’s common to ask “Why?” when it comes to computers. Unfortunately, it’s also common to be frustrated with the answer.

I was helping a friend the other day with some Windows issues and a not-uncommon question came up, one that I often dread.


As in, “Why did they do that?”

It’s a common question that gets applied to computers and software of all generations and iterations. Windows 8 has generated a healthy share of why questions, but trust me, it’s nothing new at all.

The problem is that asking why is more often than not an exercise in futility.

Don’t ask why out of frustration

Faced with something that they don’t understand, can’t comprehend, or just don’t like, many people ask why out of frustration. Why were decisions made the way that they were? What were they thinking? Ultimately, those questions are merely a way to emphasize just how much they disagree with those decisions.

They’re not really looking for an answer.

It’s a good thing, because most of the time, there is no answer. Expecting one — in particular, one that would allow you to reconcile whatever issue it is that you’re facing and thus be OK with it — is just going to frustrate you when no answer is available.

Searching for a “why” out of frustration is often energy wasted.

To get all Zen for a moment, it is what it is. Getting frustrated, asking why, or even understanding why isn’t going to change any of that.

You don’t have to like it, but it’s probably best to simply accept whatever it is for what it is and make decisions accordingly.

When the why isn’t the real why

One of the most frustrating answers in technology when it comes to “why” is what I’ll simply refer to as marketing-speak; perhaps you could even say misleading or misdirected marketing-speak, at that.

This happens when the source of our frustration believes that we can’t handle the truth or they simply don’t want to share the truth and give us some “corporate line” about why a specific change was made the way it was.

A company might say that they made a change because their tests revealed that it was better, stronger, faster, or whatever. In reality, the change was made to further some other agenda. That agenda might be about selling more product (not something that they might want to admit publicly), it might be about unifying some underlying technology (rarely a selling point), or it might be about laying a foundation for some future direction (that they can’t yet admit to for competitive reasons). Or it could be for some other random reason.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear to those of us who use the resulting change that it’s anything but “better, stronger, faster, or whatever.”

Once again, the reason doesn’t matter. It is what it is. They did what they did for whatever reason that they did it.

Make a decision to live with it or seek out alternatives. In either case, move on.

Often, the answer doesn’t help

Sometimes, you can get lucky and actually get an honest answer as to why something is the way it is. And once you know why… you’re exactly where you started. You’re no better off.

“Why did they change the user interface?”

“So that it would be consistent across all kinds of devices.”

“But I don’t use other devices. Besides, it doesn’t work on the device I do have.”

“Doesn’t matter. That’s what they did and that’s why they did it. Maybe it makes other people happy. Maybe someday it’ll make you happy when you get another device. Maybe it’ll never make you happy. Doesn’t matter. It is what it is for whatever reason.”

Sometimes, understanding why just doesn’t help.

Do ask “Why?” out of curiosity

I don’t want to make it seem like you should never, ever ask why. “Why?” is an important question when you’re curious. When you’re trying to learn how things work, the question “Why?” is often an important step to understanding something in order to make better use of it.

A genuine “Why?” often uncovers rationales that — once understood — can help you make sense of how things are connected and how things relate. Knowing that you can do something often make more effective use of whatever those things might be.

When you ask why in an attempt to learn something, it may occasionally be out of momentary frustration, but you’re genuinely interested in the answer.

On the other hand, asking why out of pure frustration because you encounter something that you don’t like is rarely a learning or helpful experience.

This article originally appeared on Ask Leo! where you’ll always find updates as well as the most vibrant discussion. For the latest, subscribe now to The Ask Leo! Newsletter and get a copy of The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition. This ebook will help you identify the most important steps you can take to keep your computer, and yourself, safe as you navigate today’s digital landscape.

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