Back in 2007: http://rooksmoor.blogspot.com/2007/07/computer-let-me-be.html and 2008: http://rooksmoor.blogspot.com/2008/02/computer-let-me-be-2.html I commented on how patronised and infuriated I was by the computer systems I use. Rather than allowing me to get on with what I want to do, I was always being prompted to do it the way the computer felt was right. In many cases it got it wrong for the UK context, for example, breaking up the word 'fora' into 'for a' and trying to put 'Yours truly' at the end of a letter. The other thing that infuriated me was the number of downloads the system and the software wanted to do for no apparent gain, so slowing up my work and my use of the computer for games. The sense that the company knows better than the user has not gone away. They keep chiding you whether within your computer, e.g. 'clean up icons you are not using' - why? or that you should be using the latest software even if you are quite happy with the current stuff. It is often stated that people only use about 10% of a software package anyway, so what is the point of introducing additional features that no-one will use, and not only that but constantly insisting that you engage with them. I know they want to appear dynamic and to keep you interested. However, this even begins to bore teenagers always seeking the latest thing, let alone the rest of us, certainly people like me still driving a car which is 15 years old.
The latest software to infuriate me is Hotmail. I have had the same Hotmail account since 1999 and have used the same password throughout. In those 11 years no-one has hacked into my email and abused it. There is nothing particular of value or interest in there anyway. However, apparently, my one word password has proven insufficient and last week Hotmail insisted that I change it to something involving more capital letters and numbers. It would not let me progress to my email account until I had. The trouble is, having typed in the same password for over a decade I now find it difficult not to do so and so I keep on being told that the wrong password has been entered too many times. I am then compelled to try and guess what letters and punctuation are shown in a squiggly picture and enter that too in order to access my own email. Many capital and lower case letters look pretty similar especially when distorted and as for full stops (periods in the USA) and commas, they look very much like each other when twisted around. Consequently I now battle to access the account that I had been using successfully for 11 years. Has it increased security? Only in the sense that it is now harder for the legitimate user to gain access to it. Is that a gain for me? No. However, as always, the provider believe they know so much better than the user and insist that I play to their rules rather than what I want, which, in fact was safe enough.
An additional gripe once I am in my Hotmail account is how they now handle attachments. This is vital for me at the moment as I apply for jobs. I long gave up on trying to attach images to any of my emails because you had to set up some complex piece of software which I tried more than once without success. However, up to now, receiving documents was no problem. That is until a few months back when suddenly they all had to go through the new WordWebApp. This allows me to see my document without being able to save it to my own computer so I am unable to do anything with it. I can go further and install another piece of software that I do not want, Silverlight. I tried this with no success, I cannot understand why. However, I am dubious of the added benefits of documents downloading faster and text looking clearer with it. I have had no problem with either of these issues with the old system. There is an alternative which is I can 'Edit in Browser' which then tries to open the document in the so-called SkyDrive. It then says that is not possible so suggests that I open it in Word, which is what I have been trying to do all along. However, given that I, like thousands of people, am running Word 2003 on Windows 2003, it stops and says I need to buy the 2010 package, not even the 2007 one. The company before last I worked for had not even moved to Windows 2007 by the time I was made redundant in mid 2009. Being unemployed I certainly cannot go out and buy new software packages, I just want to continue with what I have got. However, now any documents sent to me by email are useless. Unsurprisingly, after 11 years with Hotmail I am looking for an email system that actually works for me.
This attitude that we must constantly be upgrading was very well satirised in the children's movie 'Robots' (2005). It is set in a robot populated world with a late 1950s styling. In it the evil Ratchet has ruledthat those robots who could not afford upgrades, termed 'rusties' were to consigned to being incinerated. Fortunately there is a robot uprising and the former leading robot inventor, BigWeld is brought out of retirement to ensure that those struggling along with older equipment are not excluded. Of course, in this world there is no such uprising. Instead people like me struggling to find work are yet further excluded from even simply using our email systems to apply for it. The digital divide always finds new ways to manifest itself, driven very sharply by the insatiable desire of software companies and other providers to constantly get us to upgrade.