Change for Change’s Sake: With Technology, Is Newer, Faster and Fluffier Better?

in Technology
Joe Balsarotti

By JOE BALSAROTTI

Change for change’s sake – or should I say tech for tech’s sake?

The more I mulled over my last column (the one about having dinner with a real live rocket scientist) the more I realized I hit on one of many symptoms of the problem the tech industry has in dealing with customers. It’s no wonder most people dislike dealing with technology.

First off, most in our industry don’t even call you customers or clients anymore. You’re now an end user. Catchy, isn’t it? In the eyes of the manufacturers and designers, what you the customer want really isn’t important. It’s all about what they see fit to drop on your plate.

Like that last column when I wrote of how much useful data was gleaned about Mars from a download speed that would make the average teenager go into a meltdown over its slowness, we’re bombarded with garbage through our cable, fiber or DSL lines, all taking up useful space and making us wait for the useful stuff.

Fast forward to very recently. After about five years, I finally replaced the PC on my desk. I really must raise my energy and courage whenever I replace my primary machine since no matter how easy the industry tells all of us it is, it often winds up being a 20- to 30-hour project.

And so it was again. Transferring the documents and data aren’t the problem anymore. It’s having to reinstall each application, then configure it.

I’m close to the last person to use a new technology for myself, since most of our clients are small businesses. I need to see what they see, and most prefer to stay away from the bleeding edge of technology and wait until proven benefits are shown. Not to say I don’t learn the new things. I spend about 10 hours a week just keeping up with product announcements and updates, but as someone who’s dealt with tech for more than 40 years, I don’t want to be constantly fiddling with my own. I just want it to get the job done for me.

Now that I have Windows 10 on my primary machine, I become more irritated by the day. Microsoft, just like Apple and all the others it seems, has decided that those who pay for the products shouldn’t be able to use them as they’d like – only as the makers envision. Thus Windows 10, for all the new things it can do, is now very much like a Mac in that all the customization has been removed. Stupid little things like changing the icon title size or font, spacing or increasing the size of text inside a program but not on the desktop have become tedious to accomplish. You can’t remove Word or Excel, even if you use competing products. And setting up a machine without creating a Microsoft account (can you say Big Brother?) takes some fancy work.

On the tech discussion boards, the Microsoft techs are instructing people to load third-party tools to hack into Windows to make even the most cosmetic changes which used to be a menu away. Macs have always been that way, paraphrasing the Henry Ford quote, “You can have it any way you want as long as it’s our way,” but now Windows is the same, much like Adobe, that has tried to push its pay-by-the-month cloud for years now.

We see this dumbing down happening in all facets of technology. Automobiles now become more irritating each second, reminding us that our seatbelt is not attached (even if we’re driving five miles per hour down our driveway). Aircraft pilots now need more simulator time. Because automation is so prevalent in the cockpit, it’s feared pilots have lost their edge when they need to take manual control in an emergency. With good old Windows, the settings page now takes the entire screen to present all of 14 items instead of the dozens of options we used to have. As for icons, we’ve gone back in time to hieroglyphics since it seems the designers don’t think you can read. We no longer tape record any show we want on TV as we gave up the old VCR in the name of progress. We’re now stuck with DVRs which can’t permanently save anything. Please remind me which icon means high beams and which is for running lights.

This constant push for faster internet connections, bigger screens to show larger icons (which accomplish less with each version) and exponential increases in the use of storage space (both locally and in the cloud) aren’t really bringing us any meaningful increases in productivity, are they? Do you get more done at your computer now than five or 10 years ago? Or are you presented with more fluff and junk using up the productivity gains from newer technology? Not sure what the answer is, but more and more of us are keeping our gadgets longer and longer, so maybe there’s hope.

Be sure that when your business is told it’s time to upgrade, update or replace technology that there is a compelling reason and productivity benefit. If not, perhaps it’s time to look at technology from another perspective.

Joe Balsarotti is President of Software To Go and is a 40-year veteran of the computer industry, reaching back to the days of the Apple II. Keep up with tech by following him at Facebook.com/SoftwareToGo or on Twitter @softtogo.

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