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Death by operating system
Death by operating system
Self help guru, Anthony Robbins, has a concept he calls CANI. CANI stands for Constant and Never-ending Improvement. It is similar to kaizen, which is Japanese for improvement, or kai – change – zen – good, (see picture) and the key word here is ‘good’. Something that perhaps some product designers should embrace with more alacrity. Please get it into your heads that not all changes are good. Also, while you are it, why not embrace the idea of simplicity. KISS. Keep it simple and the same, or GIRFT – get it right first time, or even , GUDI – give up designing immediately.

This became obvious, as I recently upgraded to another mobile phone and another laptop. The switch from Blackberry to Samsung and the change to Windows 8 brought on chronic operating system fatigue. Of course I know I’ll sound like an old fart moaning about the new technology but that is precisely my point. Because I’m old, I’m allowed to complain. The problem is not that we wrinklies don’t understand the future, but that we have seen the past. I remember being jealous when the very first scientific calculators were introduced into classroom in the 1970s. I’d already learnt how to use a slide rule, and logarithmic tables, and could see what a waste of time that had been. Ever since, I have diligently upgraded to the next “new, improved, make your life better machine” on average every two years. I have done it so often I am now drowning in operating systems.

I remember DOS in the early eighties and its little blinking, green cursor and typed commands. I moved on to my first grey scale GUI (graphic user interface) on my trusty ATARI. Since then, I have faithfully learnt and applied myself to each new shift in mechanics and software. Typed only commands gave way to the dual combination of typed, or mouse point and click commands, which now gives way to the triple style of typed, mouse point and click, or touch screen variations. Three separate subtly different instructions all with quirks of style as the underlying computing is filtered through different companies and different applications programmes.

In hardware, each time a new product advertises better RAM, better ROM, faster processing, a new graphics card, improved battery, better screens and anything else in their list of exciting new product features, they are really just claiming to have fixed the problem that annoyed you most about the previous device. This marketing dishonesty creates more disappointment in the new generation of tech kit as it once again over promises and under delivers. Meanwhile the manufacturers’ arses are covered with small print. Fast processing if you are three toes sloth, or a full day’s battery life only if you are barely using your computer and plug it in to the mains every five minutes. Try anything normal like simultaneously surf the net, face time a friend, watch four episodes of Dexter back to back and play survival endless on plants versus zombies and the battery life is measured in nanoseconds.

Meanwhile, on the software side, my brain is drowning in operating systems. My touch screen phone has three return symbols in close proximity. One to back up a level and quit the email programme; one to reply to an email; and one for backspace on the message being written. Of course it’s a miracle that the device exists at all, and its features are amazing, but in the rush for global product sales, icons are taking over from language instructions and I thought we had given up hieroglyphs a long time ago. My eyes glaze over as I try to navigate icons for power up, scroll up, back up, and cock-up. The easy-to-use screen menu takes me ten minutes to decipher. Even hut 9’s code breakers at Bletchley would have come out weeping with frustration if I asked them to work out how to navigate Windows 8.

This is a light bulb moment - but in a bad way. Some time ago a similar design idiot came up with the screw in light bulb fitting to replace the bayonet fitting. And then invented the smaller size fitting, and began manufacturing halogen bulbs, then clear, and pearl, and eco and globe shaped and candle shaped bulbs. The list is endless and now your cupboards look like a supermarket shelf with twenty different light bulbs where there used to be just one. This is sold to us under the banner of freedom through choice, instead of tyranny through multiplication. The odds of buying the right bulb to fit the broken light have lengthened.

Now it seems that the era of the virtual Wild West land grab is over. New techy territorial gains will be had through corporate trench warfare. Mobile operators; computer companies; content providers and hardware manufacturers are all competing for your business as well as trying to fund it by hooking you into a lifelong relationship with them. (Actually the dating scene in a similar fashion, but that’s another story.) To do this they have to tempt you with exclusive products. and the only way they can keep exclusivity is by setting the frantic, breakneck pace of change and upgrade. Mistakes are made and so, sadly, these technology relationships between corporation and customer never last long. Even when the customer wants to be loyal. I miss my IBM ThinkPad. I had three, before I quit. I’m sorry that my blackberry had to go. I spent six years with the beautiful button QWERTY keypad. I liked the typing and my use of the smart phone keypad is less accurate. Maybe I’ll get better, but is it learning a new skill, or just another faffing waste of time? Perhaps I’ll go back to a golf ball typewriter just for the fun of its three dimensional realness.

My brain is overloaded with the dreary list of new skills and keystroke combinations I’ve learnt over thirty years. Relentless change is exhausting, and people have forgotten to stop and think. The swamp of information hides the clarity of a few simple truths. Here’s three from me.

We don’t need so many novelty features on every device.

Some people like to read instructions, not decipher bad cartoon drawings.

Old people, like me, should shut up about technology and potter about the garden instead.
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