Is your technology working for you?

I remember seeing a cartoon once where a father is yelling at his teenage son. He’s screaming that the music today is awful, and that all music stopped being enjoyable and meaningful about the same time that he stopped buying new music years ago. That joke came to mind when I read a recent editorial. In it, the author laments that Microsoft Word used to be a necessary and dynamic tool, but now it’s bloated to the point of being a hinderance. It seems he’s been too lazy to stay up-to-date with the new features and now he can’t figure out how to use it.

Today, [Word has] become an overbearing boss, one who specializes in make-work. Part of this is Microsoft’s more-is-more approach to adding capabilities, and leaving all of them in the “on” position. Around the first time Clippy launched himself, uninvited, between me and something I was trying to write, I found myself wishing Word had a simple, built-in button for “cut it out and never again do that thing you just did.”

Sadly, this mentality is all-too-common. I know people who constantly complain that iTunes is too bloated. They want a smaller, more streamlined system to manage their music library. When a new software system comes out, they complain that it lacks this or that feature that they love in iTunes. Lost in this debate is the fact that one man’s killer feature is another man’s useless bloat. Why should iTunes or Microsoft stop innovating merely because some people are unhappy with progress?

I agree that constantly learning how to use new or updated software is frustrating, but technological evolution is natural and necessary. Staying up-to-date is part of the price of doing business in a technological world. If you saw someone using a typewriter or a telegram service as standard operating procedure in this day and age, you’d laugh. It’s useful to remember that we didn’t jump straight from there to here. We improved slowly with these same kinds of small updates that annoyed everyone at the time. But we’re all the better for it, aren’t we?

The author’s main point comes here:

For most people now, though, publishing means putting things on the Web. Desktop publishing has given way to laptop or smartphone publishing. And Microsoft Word is an atrocious tool for Web writing. Its document-formatting mission means that every piece of text it creates is thickly wrapped in metadata, layer on layer of invisible, unnecessary instructions about how the words should look on paper.

Everyone who uses a content management system (CMS) runs across this issue when they first start creating content for the web. They copy formatted text from Word and paste it into their CMS and all kinds of hidden code comes with it. This is the code in Word that makes your paragraphs indent, sets your font style and size, makes your bold words bolded, and so on. It’s easy to strip this code out. With WordPress, you just paste the text via the HTML editor versus the Style editor. How easy is that?

Even if you have a bare-bones CMS (or no CMS at all), you can copy the text from Word and paste it into Notepad on a PC or TextEdit on a Mac and all of the hidden code will be stripped out. This isn’t exactly a complicated process.

The author seems to think that having more options leads to less control merely because he hasn’t learned how to format his technology the way he wants it. In fact, he could reset the defaults in Word to follow his publication’s style guideline and automate part of the editorial process, thereby eliminating much of the “make-work” that he bemoans. Instead, he wears his ignorance like a badge of honor and mumbles about how everything was better back in the good ‘ole days.

Instead of making the technology work for him, he chooses to work for it. Color me unsympathetic.

Is your technology working for you?

Is your technology working for you?
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