Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Slavery to the Technology Gods

by Janis Patterson

I have been forced to cave. Again. You all know that I am not only a techno-naif, but a techno-phobe. I wrote my first books on a 1939 Smith-Corona portable typewriter. It was manual made completely of metal and came in a case made of ¼  inch plywood. The whole thing was heavy enough to make a dandy anchor and the only reason it was called it a portable was because it was smaller and lighter and easier to move than the elephantine office models. By the way, I still own it and always will. It was my father’s in his youth, and he gave it to me the summer before I entered the fourth grade. I treasure it.

As dependable as the old portable is, however, computers are so much easier. Or at least, they’re supposed to be. Don’t get me started on the continuous “upgrades” and “improvements” that have been made. (Said in full sarcasm mode.) I don’t see why – when my work method (putting one word after another and then saving the whole) has not changed appreciably since the days of the old SC manual – every few years I should be forced to lay out a lot of money and then spend time learning a lot of things I don’t need to know simply because Gates et al want to force everyone in to giving them a few more millions. If the techies want all those new frills and fol-de-rals, fine; let them have them, but they shouldn't pull support from other systems preferred by many. To do so is nothing but greed in its purest and most hateful form. In my opinion Word 2003 was the optimal word processing system. All the commands were on one row and of a size that one could see without squinting, the design was crisp and no-nonsense and easy to use, so naturally it could not be allowed to stay.

Of course I realize I am the oddest creature, and probably a thorn (I hope!) in the side of computer designers. Just because I pay for something and I am the one to use it, I feel I should have it set up the way I want. I should not be constantly subjected to the whims of some tech-crazy designer who changes and “improves” (sarcasm mode back on in full spate) something just because he can – and can not only charge for it, but force us to accept and pay for it.

I’ve written about how my beloved 15 year old Dell finally had to be replaced – it was on the now-unsupported XP operating system, which was made unsafe to use on the ‘net. As a lot of my work is done on the ‘net, I couldn’t put my work computer at risk, so I found (at a price I could actually afford!) an almost new 17” Gateway through the good offices of a friend. It was a love/hate relationship from the beginning, with the emphasis on ‘hate’. It had Windows 7 and Word 2010, both systems that have complicated things to a ridiculous degree. What took two clicks to accomplish in 03 now take seven or eight. The designs are fussy, the procedures arcane, the negotiations around ‘networking’ ridiculous. ‘Networking’? What part of “personal” computer don’t they understand? Still I was glad not to have to deal with the much-maligned Windows 8, which I understood to be hideously complicated and more like a cell phone than a computer. I prayed never to have anything to do with such an unnecessary design.

Until we went to Egypt two months ago. As this was a working trip, I bit the bullet and took along my computer. My 17” laptop computer. I had a smaller ‘purse’ computer, but it was 5 years old, had no virus protection and was starting to act wonky. Besides, I didn’t know what off my computer I would need. (Turned out to be nothing, but that’s with my 20/20 hindsight.) The purse computer weighed just a little over a pound less than the big one, too, and I thought I could manage everything quite easily.

I did manage everything… but not easily. Despite the best and very physical efforts of Lufthansa airlines to force me to put my computer and cameras in the luggage compartment for the flight from Hell I never let them out of my hands, and that did terrible things to my shoulder and already problematic back, causing problems that persist to this day. (They are getting better, though – just not fast enough for me!)

So, when I saw a tablet on sale that I could afford, I caved and bought it. It’s an ASUS, comes with its own keyboard which makes a case when closed and the screen part can be removed to make a traditional tablet. It also comes with Windows 8.1 – which is just as ugly and uselessly trendy as I had feared – and I’m terrified of it. I spent most of yesterday with my sainted software man at our local computer store as he set it up in the way I prefer and drilled the basics of use into me.


The little tablet with keyboard weighs less than two pounds, and will fit into most of my purses, to say nothing of my traveling ‘office’ backpack. For that alone I will love it. I still fear what will happen when it is deliberately made obsolete and once again I and everyone else will have to pay for “new and improved” technology we neither need nor want. 

14 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

We do have a lot in common. I started out on a Smith Corona manual myself. My sons insisted on teaching me Appleworks when they got their first Apple computer. And I did love the change. Eventually, I also got a Dell with XP. I had already learned to use Word at work. Now I too will have to switch. But I'm hoping Windows 10 which is supposed to come out this summer will be better. In any case, I will have to make a change at that time.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Great post LOL! Technology gods must live on Mercury. The planet is in retrograde right now which messes with electronics and communication. Don't worry, it'll go direct soon and things will smooth out again. :-)
PamT

Sheila York said...

I love how easy computers make the creation (by which I mean revision) of writing. But oh, the dread upgrade! At my other career, when the tech teams gleefully announce an upgrade to systems, we just put our heads in our hands. Two weeks minimum till glitches are worked out.

Margaret Fieland said...

I am far from a technophobe -- my day job is as a computer software engineer for IBM -- but I'm with you on MS Word 2010, which I refuse to use. I use OpenOffice, which is free, and has a much nicer, IMO user interface. It can write out and read in any of the MS formats, including doc, docx, and rtf. I can't swear as to the latest version, but the ones had probolems reading comments/modifications in RTF format (they essentially disappeared if you read the file in Open Office. That's the only glitch I found, though.

Jana Richards said...

I agree it's frustrating to have to relearn software and operating systems at an ever increasing rate. I've been using Windows 8 on my laptop for a couple of years, and I've come to terms with it. But now Windows 10 is coming...another learning curve!

Angela Korra'ti said...

Speaking as somebody who is in fact a techie whose day job career got started by working for Microsoft:

I could write a long rebuttal about asking folks to keep in mind that a software company that makes something as complicated as an operating system has to spend a LOT of resources on testing that operating system and making sure it works. I am not going to do that here, though. Although I may go write a blog post on the topic. :D

I will however just note that if you want to rant about anything Microsoft does these days, it's not fair to target Bill Gates specifically. He is no longer at Microsoft and hasn't been for years. So any current activities of Microsoft are NOT his fault, promise!

Also? I AM a techie and I do love me some shiny upgrades. But they'll pry Mac Word 2008 out of my cold dead fingers. ;)

Lily Bishop said...

I agree with you 100%, but oh how easier writing has gotten on the go with laptops being so cheap. I remember when even the low end laptops were two grand, and there was no way I could justify the expense. (I will say I almost flung my year-old laptop across the room when it lost the IP address of my new printer and I couldn't reinstall the printer as quickly as I wanted.)

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I don't have a laptop, but take my iPad when I'm away from home. Still prefer my desktop PC for most of my work. All the new stuff drives me crazy--always take me too long to learn.

Jan Christensen said...

I have a love/hate relationship with my laptop and MS products. It seems to me we should be able to set up programs and "ribbons" to work for us instead of being locked into how the software designers have designed everything. And, as you mention, it should not take more than two clicks to acccomplish most anything. Sure, we can put our most used icons at the top, but they are so tiny--they should be bigger than the default, of course. When we set the font to show at 150% on the screen in each document, and save, it should always come up at that percentage. Those are just two examples. There should be a streamlined set of ribbons just for writers who do not do fancy designing. I'm pretty sure they never ask actual writer users to test the software. If I had three wishes, this would probaby be one--make me a tester, for sure.

Kaye George said...

I share you abhorrence for the new Windows mess. I have it on my latest laptop, bought only when my beloved ASUS quit working. I have children and grandchildren to help me use it, otherwise it would be totally useless to me. I can click a thingie and pull up something that looks like a desktop with my icons. I honestly wish I still had my Windows 95 computer.

Morgan Mandel said...

I'm also not thrilled with how I have to flit back and forth on Word. Every time they do an upgrade, everything gets harder to find. It worked so much better before. The other day my Android phone got an upgrade to Lollipop system, and it kept getting weird popup messages. I had to call Verizon, who switched me to Samsung, and they finally helped me out. The email is still too slow on there, while my iPad messages come up easily.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I consider it a blessing I was introduced to personal computers in the work world and am married to an ex-IBMer from the PC division. Still, I have the same disagreements with every new machine and software version I acquire. Whatever happened to that great piece of advice, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"?

Jean Henry Mead said...

I started my news reporting career typing on a Royal manual typewriter but soon bought an Olivetti electric that I hauled back and forth to work. I wrote my first book on the typewriter before acquiring a Tandy "box"computer in 1980, which certainly speeded up my writing. Thanks to my techi-husband, I've been able to keep up with a lot of the latest software programs, but agree that many of them are not improvements but unnecessary complications.

Kathleen Kaska said...

I've recently taking on a part-time job for (guess what) a publishing company. Talk about being force out of my comfort zone! I now HAVE to delve into the tech world more. It's not as frightening as I imaged. I even understand some of what's going on by asking questions over and over again.