User Unfriendly

I didn’t realize I was a caveman until I had my first run-in with user unfriendliness. That happened way back when, in the 1980s. I had language skills, but little computer knowledge to speak of, and I was working at a technical editing job that was more technical than editing.

The program they gave me to work with was so crude that when you moved text from one line to another you actually saw the text rise above its original sentence and hover there until you gave it a follow-up command, at which point it would vanish and then reappear at its destination. Seems laughable now, but back then it was cutting edge technology. If you were not among those early computer literates who knew how to rearrange the text on your screen, they would call you a caveman.

Though the cut/paste scheme was the same as it is today, the command sequence had little to do with intuition. Either you knew it or you didn’t. One required a basic knowledge of the function keys on top of the keyboard, which in those days performed the various computer operations. And unless you had someone to show you the way you were stuck in the Stone Age.

Since those early hi-tech times I have been trying to break out of the cave, but each new advance feels like one step forward, two steps back.

Things were supposed to get “user friendly” with the arrival of Windows. Suddenly computer illiterates all over the planet were copying, pasting, dragging and dropping like there was no tomorrow. The next thing you knew, everyone went surfing on that boulevard of dreams called the Internet. And ever since, new breakthroughs have defined the way modern man interfaces with his peers, from almighty Google to the latest generation of smart phones, those nifty devices with all their dorky applications that enable you to carry around your whole life in the palm of your hand.

But I’m still a cave man. That’s what they say about me, the computer savvy folks. Just as computers and all that goes in them can be more impersonal than inter-personal, the same can be said about certain people I know. In truth, computers aren’t the problem. People are the problem.

The more in-built and intuitive the software is cranked up to be, the more Neanderthal folks like yours truly are expected to figure things out all by ourselves. Equally, the more computers keep proving their worth as time-saving tools, the less patience people have to explain how to make them work for you. User friendliness can be helpful, but that benefit isn’t always as clear as advertised.

After all the thousands of hours I have spent staring at the screens of the various in-house and home PCs I wore out over the years I do have some experience. I have written all sorts of web content, edited and translated tons of documents and run a home business, with all my work stored in folders and saved on Dropbox. But I still can’t figure out how to put a decent “selfie” photo on this page for this blog. And when I save a phone number on my smart ass phone, I can’t tell if it ends up on my SIM card or in some vague memory domain. Then, when I transfer my SIM to a new phone and my contacts turn up without their phone numbers, I am reminded that I’m a dumb-ass phone user.

Indeed, these time-saving times have rendered all pretenses of user friendliness irrelevant and lack of computer knowledge unacceptable. If you don’t know it, just Google it, say all the card-carrying, computer-happy club members. Go into forums and find out whatever you need to know. Spend the time to find things out, because smart guys like us don’t have the time to explain it to you.

Back in the day someone grudgingly told me when to hit the F7 and F8 keys as part of on the job training. Today that too is passé.

But enough whining. Someday I’ll show those computer freaks. And when I figure out the right amount of pixels needed for a sharp photo, the whimsies of Androids and how to navigate the counter-intuitive pitfalls of Microsoft Word like a true power user, I won’t hoard all that knowledge to myself. After all, this is the Information Age.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.