Sunday 13 July 2014

Technophobia 3

People spend 28% of work time on email, but when polled said “50%”.

In 1990, a newspaper went over to a new system with a spellcheck but wouldn't let sub editors use it because it was their job to check spelling.

Why do some organisations say “Yes, send us an email, but ring as well”? They haven’t hired anyone to read emails.

We need to rethink our strategy of hoping the internet will just go away. (Cartoon caption)

Texting can lead to poor posture and balance, new research shows. (Daily Telegraph Jan 2014)

"I can’t be bothered to set web filters for my kids” means “I don’t know how”.

When did people stop saying "garbage in, garbage out" and "blogosphere"?

The worst font snobs are people who had never even heard of fonts before we all got computers.

Every web innovation is immediately sold as a money-making scheme.

1969: Oxford University Press delegates' minutes started to be typed rather than handwritten.

Letter to the Times, August 3 2013
Sir, When I was in the Treasury in the 1970s, audio typists got extra pay and so did word processor operators. But you couldn’t have both supplements. Your dictation was typed by an audio typist and the hard copy typescript was then transcribed on to a word processor. The typing pool was in Hove, and a man went up and down on the train with the documents. The computer, of course, was in Norwich. When I first joined there was one single electronic calculator, which thought for about two seconds before responding. The rest of us used hand cranked machines. (Richard Seebohm, Oxford)

Jobseekers must fill in an online form that only works on very old-fashioned browsers. Do Jobcentres have the Internet yet?

National Savings website has a form that you have to print out and mail to them. (2013)

Virginia Woolf’s father asked why he should get hot running water installed – when he had enough servants to carry cans of hot water upstairs.

Tory MP calls out Labour for having salacious ads on its webpage, doesn't know ads are based on his own web history. (
John Aziz ‏@azizonomics)

Felt tip pens were invented in 1962.

Talking pictures “only a fad” say experts (Variety headline)
You mark my words, radio and cellophane are here to stay! (Fred Allen)

There are people who smugly hold out against something that everybody uses now and has for years – like email, or Amazon, for some reason like “Amazon underpays its workers”. (Dawn French doesn't even have a computer. In 2010, department store Selby's of Holloway wasn't using barcodes.)

"Technology throws a spanner into the old hierarchical machinery - just when you'd got the pecking order all worked out!" (The most unlikely person of your acquaintance may turn out to know more about it than you do.)

People know that they can watch catch-up TV on their computer, but “I can’t watch TV on a computer! The chair is uncomfortable!" (So put the seat back. Or bring in a comfy chair.) "My office is the coldest room in the house!" (Bring in a blow heater.) “It’s awkward watching TV on a tablet!” (Get a tablet stand.)

"Backspace means “erase this thing” it does not mean “go back a page in my browser so I lose everything” you goddam monsters." (Wil Wheaton ‏@wilw)

I asked Twitter: “You can write on laptops, but can you edit?”. Got the reply “I print it out, edit on copy and THEN RETYPE”.

When the company got everyone a typing chair, some colleagues didn’t realise you could lock the back at the desired slope. One by one, their chairbacks were fixed – probably by people who borrowed the chair, leaned back and almost fell off.

If these people had a software problem, they got huffy if you said “Can I have your chair?” They didn’t accept the explanation “I can’t remember what to do and tell you – my fingers know, but my conscious mind doesn’t; and besides, I need to be able to see your screen properly, and I can’t touch-type at an angle.” Then when you showed them what to do, they never took notes.

Google is 15 years old, but some humans still don’t know how to use plus, minus and quote marks to search.

And then there are those who use your pens, whether or not you’re at your desk, and never put the top back on, so that the pen dries up and becomes unusable immediately. They also think that “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine”, and constantly borrow your stapler and sellotape – or use them when you’re sitting at your desk, without a by-your-leave. Sometimes they just take them to their own desks and keep them. Probably they don’t know how to order stationery for themselves, or know where the stationery cupboard is, and it’s beneath their dignity to ask. And they’re not bright enough to work out that you can buy what you need at Ryman’s and expense it. (I could have given them each a stapler with their name on. Then they’d have lost the staplers and come and used mine as usual.)

Another thing: if I have my phone to my ear and a pencil in my hand and I am writing in shorthand on a pad – do not talk to me! I am interviewing somebody and if you talk to me I can’t hear what they’re saying. Same goes if you make ME call the other office and ask them something – don’t lean over me and tell me what to say while I am trying to listen to their answer. And if you lend me your smartphone, please don't tell me what to say while I am trying to hear the person at the other end (who is extremely quiet because I have unwittingly pressed that button that reduces the volume). And why are you telling me what to say, again?

Office phones used to be so badly designed that the phone part was too light and the cord would get tangled up and too short. Whenever you lifted the handset, the phone would fall off the desk. So I used to tape my phone to my desk. When people wanted to use my phone (Why were they doing that? It was my phone? on my desk?), they would untape it. (Thank God office phones are hardly used any more. Men would never untangle a phone cord, or clean a keyboard.)

An convention seems to have grown up that you don't look over someone's shoulder at their screen. About time!

Some people wouldn’t learn the terminology, as if it was beneath them. They insisted on calling a disc a tape and just confused themselves further. They complained that computer jargon – all these bits and bytes! - was polluting the language. And techies used data in the singular!

But in the early days most software was bespoke, and there was no standard for such things as keyboard shortcuts. Every package was hard to learn, so people never wanted to learn another one and go through all that again.

A colleague wrote a piece on his home computer, printed it out, brought it into the office and retyped it. Why didn’t he email it to himself? “I can’t do that.” “You just cut and paste it into an email.” “I can’t do that.” (Perhaps he thought cut and paste only worked in Word  - so did I, once!)

People used to wail “But you’ll lose all your formatting!”, as if it was difficult to add formatting. Formatting has got much too complicated, and cut and paste tries to preserve it, no matter how hard you try to lose it.  (I want to match the target, not the source.)

When a certain magazine first got email in the 90s, everybody hit “reply all” instead of “reply” and got into a terrible tangle… as they all “replied all” messages saying “please stop sending me all these messages complaining about all the messages people keep sending!” to everybody in the company.

“At least one mistress wouldn’t let her maid use the electric iron in case she fused it… there were stories of employers who forbade their domestics to [listen to the radio].” (Alison Light, Mrs Woolf and the Servants) That used to happen in offices – technology that you knew was going to save you the grunt work was hoarded. And you were dissuaded from reading the manual as “it would only confuse you”.

A friend worked in a business college that had bought a roomful of computers which nobody knew how to work. They came with software, but the staff didn’t know you had to insert a disk to run it. Presumably the college didn’t think the staff needed any training. My friend read the manual, which told her all about the whizzy things the computers could do, but still when she turned one on, all she got was a picture of a disk. The room lay quiet for months, like the tomb of Tutankhamun. (Eventually somebody worked it out.)

People who work at home still won’t go to a proper second-hand office equipment warehouse and get a real adjustable chair and proper desk. Some are still using a tinny “computer table” with a pull-out shelf for the keyboard (found in no offices – I wonder why?).


"Twitter is evil because it’s all so synthetic."

“Facebook will lose 80% users in a few years” says some mathematical model, Jan 2014

Heaven knows there are reasons enough for anyone to feel miserable about Facebook: the mediation and commodification of ordinary human relationships, the mediation and commodification of every aspect of everyday life, the invasions of privacy, the ‘targeted’ adverts, the crappy photos, the asinine jokes, the pressure to like and be liked, the bullying, the sexism, the racism, the ersatz activism, the ersatz everything."
(Thomas Jones, LRB, July 2014 (Ersatz everything? So the racism and sexism is also ersatz? So why worry?)

"This is the new world order, we have never seen anything like it, and our children are carrying it around with them in their pockets.” The playful, cutesy language of the internet tends to mislead both parents and children. “All that ‘cloud’ and ‘like’ and ‘friend’ and ‘Google’ and ‘Twitter’. The nursery language makes it seem a safe Teletubby land where nothing bad could happen.” In reality, it is making children miserable. It’s not just porn that does the damage. Research shows that the more time adolescents spend on social media sites, the unhappier they become." (documentary director Beeban Kidron)

There are plenty of ‘Facebook is bad for you because X’ posts, but I’m talking about a mindset that goes beyond any single web service. This is the curse of our age. We walk around with the tools to capture extensive data about our surroundings and transmit them in real-time to the bedrooms and pockets of friends, family and every acquaintance we’ve made in the past eight years. We end up with a diminished perception of reality because we’re more concerned about choosing a good Instagram filter for our meal than we are about how it tastes. We become Martian rovers, trundling around our environment, uploading data without the ability or desire to make any sense of it. Ultimately, we end up externalising our entire lives. (

“Apparently all the ‘nice’ people are leaving Twitter.” @katabaticesque Aug 2013

“Twitter is morally depopulated and needs radical action to save it,” according to the Guardian Aug 2013.

25% of Facebook users don't use its privacy settings.

"Who uses Facebook any more?" is what everyone says, while still being on, says The Middle-Class Handbook
Facebook may be ‘passing fad’ as growth in users flattens out (Times)

Facebook is full of "monotonous selfies and sensationalism", says a Facebook meme.

“Meh! Instagram confuses sharing with giving.”

"There's always making a phone call and writing a letter. Life!”
(Charlie Stait, BBC Breakfast)

You need to take quite a lot of control over Twitter and FB (decide whom to follow, block or report, learn FB’s complicated filtering). But I thought people liked being in control? It’s what they say they like. And a lot of technophobia is fear of losing control (and status, oh yes, that).

Twitter refuseniks act as if it was necromantic - but they just have to log on. It's just like youtube, and FB, and Flickr, and email, and...

Smartphone angst here.
More technophobia here.

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