I’ve been increasingly (and sadly) realizing just how much harder technology makes our lives. Sure, sure, it speeds some things up, simplifies a few things, and admittedly makes a lot of cool things possible.
But I just realized the insane amount of work one has to do just to be successful and reasonably safe / efficient in the computer age:
- Shop for and buy a computer.
- Set the damn thing up.
- Figure out the whole Internet access thing (no, AOL is *NOT* an acceptable answer; friends don’t let friends AOL).
- Buy all the “extra” stuff that you really need… printer, a decent mouse, possibly a scanner, and then set all of that up, too… praying that it somehow works together.
- Buy the software you need. Spend a good afternoon installing it, registering it, setting it up, and so forth.
- Translate the manuals (if you even received any) from Hindi/Chinese/GeekSpeak and actually be able to USE the damn hardware and software to get things done.
- Back up your data so when it goes *POOF* someday (and it WILL go *POOF* someday) your financial, social, and professional well being isn’t shattered into tiny little miserable pieces.
- Figure out how to deal with all the spam e-mail.
- Protect yourself against all the viruses and spyware around the net.
- Update your software every time there’s a new security warning, or an important new update. Realize that your updated [whatsit] software no longer works with your still-useful-but-outdated [whozit]; pay for and update [whozit].
- One day, when [howzit] no longer works, spend 80 minutes (47 of which are on hold, listening to the same re-looped 4 minutes of muzak) talking to a techie who is grumpy, barely speaks English, and doesn’t really care about your problems anyway.
- Note your backlog of 4,813 e-mails, at least 270 of which are uncaught spam. Recall, too, that you have to go trawling through the 7,000 mails in your spam/junk folder to avoid missing another legitimate mail like you did last week, causing you to forget your credit card due date and requiring you to pay $137 in interest and fines.
- With the remaining 4543 ‘good’ e-mails, spend time sorting them, deleting the boring stuff, and realizing that you still have to write back at least a few dozen people, including your girlfriend and your dad, who think you’ve intentionally been ignoring them.
- It’s time to update your software again. Squeal with, uh, glee when your computer doesn’t seem to want to load Office anymore, preventing you being able to send or receive e-mails or finish the letter you had to write by yesterday morning.
- By now, your computer is *SOOOOO* old (at least three years!), and it no longer runs even your most basic needed programs fast enough for your busy day. Time to return to step one.
* * *
But it’s not just hardware and software in the aggregate that’s mindbogglingly frustrating and seemingly designed to cause migraines. Individual software programs — even those positioned to be “easy to use” and user-friendly and all that junk — are sometimes amazingly, well, dumb.
I was reminded of this when I read Fran?ois’ rant about FUC Weblog software. What is it? You’ll just have to read his entry to find out. But part of it has to do with the fact that for all of technology’s wonderful achievements and potential, the most common/popular/advanced Weblog software out there STILL typically makes folks enter in arcane ‘tags’ when they want to bold or center text or include links and so on. Sure, some have little buttons that’ll add the stupid tags in for you, but you still have to hit PREVIEW to see (approximately) what your final post is going to look like.
How dumb is that! WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) has been around for, um, how long now? Even Hotmail, for goodness sake, has a WYSIWYG viewer built in, so that — shock of shocks — when you want to italicize something, you hit CTRL-I and you can actually SEE it italicized.
This is but a small example of how technology has ‘advanced’ but usability is still often in the dark ages. For crying out loud, we can fit billions of bits on a tiny little platter… we can get search results from billions of documents in under one second, but we can’t even seamlessly integrate a WYSYWIG viewer into software that’s supposed to be point-and-click simple?
I say we deprive a few engineers of their coffee and snicker bars and pr0n until usability becomes as prioritized as back-end magic and gee-whiz crap.