Dealing With Nice-Problems-to-Have

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Some time ago, before I used a combination of finding a new web browser, switching to a new text editor, and scripting to take the pain out of writing, I wrote:

Were there an award for stupendous achievements in wasting computational power, it would surely go to some web scripter somewhere: I have six gigabytes of RAM, a 2.4 GHz, dual-core processor, yada-yada, and some page I want to load for the sake of reading a short article freezes it up? ... This is astonishingly bad and amazingly common. I run Linux and, if I caught the problem in time, [I] would usually kill my browser from the command line, but even then, I'd generally lose some work. Something had to give.
I have since learned that this problem is due to the methods used to advertise on web pages, but I ran across an explanation of the problem that is both detailed and amusing, by Maciej Cegłowski. He titles his talk, "The Website Obesity Crisis." I recommend the article for a couple of reasons. One is in the vein of making a phenomenon less annoying by showing the reasons for it/lampooning it, both of which this talk does. For example, in discussing the current fad of tablet interfaces for everything, Cegłowski notes:
After you decide where to go, the site takes you to this calendar widget.

It has equally enormous buttons, but the only piece of information I'm interested in -- the price of the flight on each day -- appears in microscopic type under the date.

My gripe with this design aesthetic is the loss of information density. I'm an adult human being sitting at a large display, with a mouse and keyboard. I deserve better.

Not every interface should be designed for someone surfing the web from their toilet.
The other is because I disagree with the proposed solution of "onerous regulation" (his words!) since (1) that isn't the proper purpose of government, and (2) I think many of the more annoying aspects of modern computing are manifestations of cultural issues, anyway. (And the solution to cultural problems is getting the word out and persuading people to change their thinking, rather than sic the government on a few scapegoats.) For example, another commentator explains why he won't bother with any product that gratuitously intertwines itself with "the Cloud":
Software as a service to many people is the way to convert what used to be licensed software into a repeat revenue stream and in principle there is nothing wrong with that if done properly (Adobe almost gets it right). But if the internet connection is down and your software no longer works, if the data you painstakingly built up over years goes missing because a service dies or because your account gets terminated for no apparent reason and without any recourse you might come to the same conclusion that I came to: if it requires an online service and is not actually an online product I can do just fine without it.
If more people adopted a similar attitude, boycotts of/complaints about products with schizophrenic cloud "integration" and of sites that waste bucketloads of users' time would drive proprietors towards better business models. (On a hopeful note, I see that Google is offering a way to subscribe to see fewer ads.) Part of the problem is that many people simply do not know better (either technology usually helps lousy sites get away with bloat and poor design (as Cegłowski points out) or makes it easy for people to escape learning anything about computation (perhaps the other edge of the sword of division of labor)). That said, both of these commentators speak of problems that have grown beyond technology and the technological ignorance of the general populace, as their articles, which are easily understood by laymen attest.

-- CAV

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