(Times-News (Burlington, NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 06--When computers are good, they're very, very good, but when they're bad, they're infuriating.
It seems kind of demented to feel like taking a machine that's so incredibly useful and compressing it with a sledgehammer to the size of a pingpong ball the second it dares to do some little thing differently from what had been envisioned. Perhaps it's because computers are such powerful analogs of our own minds that we can't tolerate even tiny variances from what we'd expected.
Of course the problem isn't the hardware -- the part you could take a sledgehammer to -- but the software, so really my beef is with the programmers. They're always taking away features I need, disguising them or making them hard to get to, all because they've decided they're no longer of value. But how would they know? They're not users. The only value they see is how elegantly the program is written. This is like judging a cake not by its flavor and texture, but by the grammar and syntax of the recipe.
Programmers' attitude -- "You don't need that; it's better to do it this way" -- is just plain wrong. I do need that, and it's not better to do it this way. How could they know that anyway? They don't even know what I need to do.
They seem to think we work for their sophisticated software, rather than the other way around, and it's our place to serve their ingenious creations because those creations are more important than we are. That actually is the infuriating thing -- not the poor machines, but the programmers' contempt for users.
At one time, there was a concept called "user-friendly." It's long been discarded. Today, software condescends to us. Programmers expect us to be humbled in its presence, and not to regard applications as mere tools. And if applications work differently from what we expect, it's we who are at fault, not they.
I'M FORTUNATE to be away from some of the systems I used at other newspapers. Currently, my frustration is with Google. It's been awhile since it returned what I searched for because it's come to assume that what I want is what it thinks I want rather than what I type in. If this arrangement works better for some folks, fine, but there ought to be a way to make a search engine just follow orders. At one time, you could use Boolean techniques (e.g., quotation marks) to help make searches specific, but apparently that's old hat now, and Google has moved on.
Google also makes me reset my preferences constantly, then swallow its lie that my "preferences have been saved," and affirm that lie by clicking "OK" before I can get back to the search that isn't returning what I searched for anyway.
Maybe I could get around all of this by signing in. But with all the information Google already is collecting on me, I just don't have the stomach to provide more. And other search engines are generally less satisfactory and tend to mirror Google's annoying trends.
Oh well, this, too, shall pass: One day, Google will be old hat.
Tom Jones is city editor of the Times-News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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