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The More Things Change

Believe me, I understand that software has to keep evolving. 

Part of it is simply keeping people interested and feeling as though they’re getting something “better.” Part of it is greater computing power and building on the shoulders of a previous release – bug fixing, user satisfaction indexes, and that kind of thing.

But I’ve also wondered more than once if tinkering isn’t done “just because we can,” and not necessarily to the user’s advantage.

I was seriously annoyed not so long ago when the Microsoft Office Suite “adjusted” its controls, moving items around from menu to menu, changing names of things, and making all those “muscle memory”
operations difficult to relearn. Add features, sure – but is it really necessary to regroup them? Did the
Microsoft engineers have serious reason to believe users would be happy to find that an operation they used literally daily now had to be hunted for and remapped mentally?

Of course we all know that what’s “in style” for websites has been changing radically over the years: left menus with flyouts were The Thing until top nav replaced it and has been holding steady. Deep, all-inclusive sites in many cases were replaced with simple, business-card style introductions with easy to locate contacts. Unless they hid the direct contacts behind a one-size-fits-all contact form. A big fat phone number in the upper right corner so you could simply call the place quickly disappeared in favor of a tiny little number hidden deep at the bottom of the page. Multiple pages organized neatly by subject were replaced with long, long, long scrolling pages containing all sorts of seemingly randomly placed information —and worst of all are the moving objects— touch them with your mouse at your own peril.

Of greater concern, and more annoyance, is our social media interactions. By now, of course, the “Facebook and your privacy” issue has been discussed. I lacked a certain amount of sympathy with anyone who felt betrayed or violated by their information being “discovered” because the very act of engaging on a social media platform is making yourself the content – your actions, interactions, products you buy, ideas you endorse. I recall many years ago one particularly private individual saying to me “Facebook is evil,” and swearing he would never take part in it. He hasn’t. Relatively speaking, his privacy remains private.

But lately Facebook, as well as Twitter —not so much Instagram— has been rolling out a series of adjustments not only in what is allowable content (naked photos, yes, the Declaration of Independence, no) but in how you are advertised to and how you will interact with the platform.

As noted above, software (and both Facebook and Twitter are software) is constantly evolving. The nice and easy interaction you once had with a Facebook video (you watched, it ended, you perhaps liked it —or not— and that was that) now can turn into a nightmare of video after video unless you instruct the platform not to auto-play video.

Facebook fact-checkers review stories and rate them, demoting content they view as “false.” We’ve known for a long time that you’ll get more posts from people you interact with
frequently, but that it bears little resemblance to what they may actually be sharing. What we now must contend with is that someone’s story or link may be denied “air” because it doesn’t meet fact-checker scrutiny. Which begs the question: who checks the fact checkers?

I’m not sure about your experience, but I’ve noted a significant uptick in hacked accounts (requests to be friends from people I’m already friends with, followed by odd interactions with that “person”) and an increasing number of requests to friend the handsome man who inevitably works in some manly occupation and is widowed (often shown holding a puppy, a child, or a bunch of flowers). The male equivalent of this is a gorgeous half-clothed Russian woman.

But here’s a hopeful note: I’m sure you’ve seen the coloring-for-adults books. Welcome now the planning on paper classes being offered in a group setting. Yes, face to face with other people. The idea being to remember (or learn) how to write physical notes on paper, keep a journal, record thoughts and ideas, and actually construct your lists with a pen and paper. Public diaries, which, in many ways, Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are, are all well and good – and in many ways great fun because it’s easier to take a photo or video and share it all in one swift arc than to take a photo, print it, put it in an envelope and mail it off to a friend. But there is also something —much— to be said for not only sharing our thoughts with just ourselves, but getting together in person with friends, old and new, to share an experience together. Maybe the pendulum has swung far enough in the online direction and we’ll enjoy a little break in the world of pens, papers, and – this actual newspaper you’re reading!

 

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.