Not long ago I wrote a post about not “liking” dinosaurs, and a crucial caveat there was that I also do not dislike dinosaurs — that I was essentially neutral on the subject of dinosaurs. To me they’re seriously old news. Not on my radar, as it were.
What certainly is — unavoidably — on my radar is modern technology, and in particular the ubiquitous touchscreen device and its myriad apps. After being subjected to an Apple iPad for over two years now, I’ve come to have a deep loathing for almost every aspect of the whole thing! And, because of my issues with it, I see no reason to ever own a “smart” phone (although I fear an eventual lack of choice in the matter).
Now be warned: this is me venting. I have very little positive to say here.
So I’ll start with what little good I do have to say:
¶ I’m totally down with ebooks. I get the love of physical books (and I still have many shelves full of them), but ebooks are better in almost every other regard.
OTOH, physical books still have some advantages: The sheer physical experience. Easy to share. Leaving one behind, or losing one, isn’t that catastrophic (versus losing the device your ebooks are on).
¶ As with reading books, browsing blogs and websites, watching videos, scanning the news articles, checking the weather, there is some pleasure in being able to do these things from your couch, easy chair, or auto mechanic’s waiting room.
OTOH, many of the apps that enable these things drive me crazy for being, at least to my eye, very badly designed. In all cases, the PC versions are far superior.
Plus, they seem very passive to me, for browsing, viewing, or reading, only. I find that serious participation requires a real keyboard. Writing at length on a touchscreen is absurdly irksome.
¶ Instant Messaging can be kinda fun and occasionally actually useful.
OTOH, I’ve found I’ve become far less likely to write long thoughtful emails to my friends. (Maybe they’re fine with that!) Again, though, one big problem is the touchscreen keyboard.
And that’s kind of it for me.
I don’t play games — certainly not on small devices, I can’t quite fathom why anyone would — so that’s a large category of uses that means nothing to me. The Apple App Store, in fact, sees “games” as distinct from “apps” so there’s a whole section of the store I never visit.
I’m an old fan of maps and navigation, so the GPS and map apps don’t do a great deal for me. They’re okay, and I do use them although probably not as most do — as real-time navigation aids.
I use them to look up locations in novels I’m reading or to explore a city I’ve never visited or to get a sense of a location I’m about to go. I have never once followed some talking robot’s directions (nor will I ever — I’d feel like an idiot).
My iPod library is huge, so streaming music isn’t much a draw, and I’ve not been able to get into podcasts or audio books.
I’m just not a fan of talking to machines, and I don’t much care for them talking to me. (R2-D2, fine, but C-3PO? Oh, hell, no.)
Part of this has to do with my strong opinion that spoken language is generally a horribly inefficient way to communicate information. That’s especially true when it comes to the way most people use language — very casually, let’s say.
With little regard for information content and structure, let’s say.
Speaking is great for sharing and bonding and experiencing, but when it comes to disseminating information, it takes a trained speaker with a prepared speech to significantly reduce the signal/noise ratio.
For information, written text, with pictures, is best. It’s self-pacing and unless very poorly written has a far superior signal/noise ratio. (It also has the advantage of longevity. Consider the Rosetta Stone.)
Some very well thought-out and produced videos I’ve seen can equal this, even exceed it in some cases, but most videos don’t come close to leveraging the medium effectively.
[Full disclosure: I have a severe hearing deficiency, so I’m quite visually biased and far more a fan of the written than spoken word. Even so, my points stand.]
A bigger share of my growing disdain comes from how different the same application can be between its PC and touchscreen versions.
The touchscreen versions seem brain-dead to me, and I suspect a big part of the problem is the whole technology of touch screens. But even so, I still can’t believe how bad some apps are.
A few examples:
¶ Google Earth on my PC is freakin’ awesome! I love this application. I’ve used its features a lot, particularly the ability to make paths and place markers. When I needed an outline of the Big Island of Hawaii recently, Google Earth provided.
But the iPad version is a brain-dead piece of junk. It’s a viewer with almost no capabilities. Almost completely useless to me except for idle browsing. (Which, honestly, I’d just as soon do on my 22″ PC monitor, thank you.)
¶ YouTube. I have a lot of problems with their interface on all platforms, but the app version is worst of all. The design of the app is just plain horrific, and it’s hugely lacking in consistency.
For example, it shows the red “seen” underbar in some contexts, but not others, which drives me crazy. And why can’t I add to Watch Later from the notifications? Why do I only have two options (Hide and Share, and “hide” is a stupid, stupid, confusing, wrong term).
¶ Google… kinda in general. Their user interfaces, to me, are very bad. I’ve tried to figure out Gmail repeatedly, and it makes no sense to me. It’s far too complicated for an email program.
I’ve tried their Gmail app several times and deleted the damned thing every time, in huge frustration, after only minutes. One of the worst apps I’ve ever used.
Apple apparently gave up on their attempt at “3D touch,” which may say something about the fundamental limits of a touchscreen. It is, after all, essentially finger-painting.
On top of the lack of precision, touchscreen keyboards add a complete lack of tactile feedback for your fingers. (Plus such a small size, it makes for whole new fingerings. The thumbs dance, or the one-handed taps.)
And always, always, always keep an eye on auto-correct.
But on top of the touchscreens, the fact that apps are seemingly designed to be used by three-year-olds seems also a contributing factor. I understand the value of making an app easy to use, but why can’t apps have “power user” features for, you know, power users?
The obvious answer, of course, is that power user almost always involves complex inputs — “user gestures” — and touchscreens just don’t have the capability.
This rant, perhaps, is mainly about how annoyed I am with touchscreens and their simple-minded apps, but it’s also about Apple, who is getting on my last nerve. In part for their role in all this, but also because of their behavior and attitude in general.
The only thing Apple ever did that I hands down like is the iPod. That was the one place the Apple “appliance” philosophy actually works for me. A simple widget I can carry around to listen to music with.
I’ve had and enjoyed my iPod Classic for many years. I dread the day it dies (and I have to use something far more complicated than I want or need).
My iPad, though in our mere two-year life together has barely survived a brief experience as a Frisbee followed immediately by a flying object meets wall experience.
For example, big, huge stick in my craw: Why doesn’t Apple believe in the [Delete] key? They know about the [Backspace] key, so they do know text needs deleting. But they apparently only feel people delete from the right?
Seriously? That one thing alone makes me hate Apple. They also don’t know about the [Escape] key, which is a crucial tool for real computer users.
It’s a bit like their simple-minded one-button mouse, another truly dumb idea for dumb computers users. That second button is one of the more powerful daily use tools in Windows.
(In my work days, when I used to introduce people to using computers, a key piece of advice was, “Right-click on everything!” So much power in that second mouse button.)
Apple sells dumb computers for dump computer users.
And because we let all the dummies in, now the internet is a shit pit — literally a fucking latrine. And we can see where all this dumb crap has led: directly to the current political hell.
As I’ve said many times before: It’s not that people are any worse than they ever were. It’s that our culture has become mind-numbingly stupid. We’ve brought the movie Idiocracy to living color.
With our stupid movies, and our stupid televisions shows, and our stupid video games, and our stupid simplistic tribal views, we make ourselves into a stupid society.
And end up with exactly the sort of situation, politically, socially, economically, you would expect when society goes stupid in the head.
I’ve given up hope in the human race. We’re a proven failure, and the few bright lights among us are dragged down by sheer inertia of the stupid.
Oh, well. Maybe some other species on some other planet, perhaps in some other galaxy, will do better.
But we don’t have a prayer. The world will fail around us while we don’t even notice because we’re heads down in our stupid tiny screens.