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Essay

Keep it Complicated, Komrade!

While not many providers of technology or technological services will go to the brazen extremes of the IKEA corporation, and boast about how difficult their product or service is to use, this pride in technological complexity is there, for those willing to look for it.

Consider all the computer technology-related stuff you use in a day, or a week. It’s clear that most of it was designed with the pleasure and convenience of its designers in mind. It’s also clear that most of these designers are likely under the age of 40. How else to explain the minuscule fonts serving as buttons or labels–fonts which in more civilized times were only used for the truss ads in the back pages of Sunday newspapers, and which almost anybody over 60 finds next to impossible to read even with glasses? Twice during the past week I’ve had to use a magnifying glass to read such fonts–this although my eyesight is 20/20 once corrected with costly progressive trifocals.

It’s obvious, as well, from the complexity of instructions around such things as converting print books to e-books that the people who write these instructions love complex technology, indeed revel in its complexity, even (and perhaps especially) in its ambiguity. If the tech designers and authors of such instructions had been thinking of their users, most of whom are older people with limited knowledge of and less liking for complicated technology, they would have taken care to keep things simple and absolutely unambiguous. But no. They were thinking of themselves, and designing their technologies and instructions for people who love spending hours poring over a screen pondering the imponderable (if not the impossible). Most of these folks, I dare say, probably don’t have much in the way of a life. If they did, they wouldn’t be putting this sort of stuff out there for our exquisite torment. They would have too much real stuff to do to be interested in creating mind-boggling cyber complexity.

There’s another, yet more sinister reason why most computer technology is complex and difficult, and is likely to be kept that way, or worse, for the foreseeable future. By keeping things complex and in need of frequent replacement and refurbishment, those in the tech industry guarantee themselves long-term employment. That, I’m sure, is why programs are “updated” every few days, whether we the users think they need improvement or updating or not. Got to keep the industry in work, don’t ya know?

The near-religious desire to create sexy technology as opposed to useful technology, which is always simple, is, I’m sure, also a factor in many countries’ monstrous defense budgets–particularly that of the U.S. When technology doesn’t need to meet any tests of economic efficiency or utility, why not go all out with the bells and whistles? No one, it appears, is going to stop you. But this is another subject, for another time. . .

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