Can stuff please Just Work?

Today’s article is a guest post from David Griffin. Got anything you want to get off your chest? Let me know!

Has anyone noticed that more and more things these days just don’t work because they are too complex?

I used to think a phone line was pretty straightforward. If you had a dialtone, then you had a working phoneline. Now I find that my Toucan/Tiscali/Pipex/TalkTalk landline has had an “update” and suddenly it won’t call some US numbers correctly. And it tells me a number in France has been engaged for 3 weeks solid, which I simply don’t believe.

Cellphones used to be clunky but sort of worked like an appliance. You turned them on, you dialled, you spoke. Now they are computers. I’m seriously sick of having to wait seconds for a reboot (or even to take out batteries) when the phone attempts something a bit too clever.

I have a digital TV that cannot seem to stop defaulting to analogue TV after a power outage, a DVD player whose “max pause before shutting down” setting is ignored, and a wireless doorbell that intermittently fails to ring (but only when UPS are trying to deliver an urgent package).

Even bikes! Good grief, I entered a mountain bike race and I swear I was the only one there with cables on my brakes. But I saw so many of these £3000+ bikes broken down by the side of the course. Then I was informed by a bike shop last week that 3 years was the most I could expect from a bike hub these days. Yet I’m still riding on a pair of wheels I bought (second hand) 27 years ago!

And web pages. Static HTML might be boring but at least once the page appeared you could scroll down it. I’m getting heartily sick of pages that won’t respond to the mouse thumbwheel until every last bit of ad crap is rendered. (And of pages that are served by such complex CMSs that it can be seconds before they appear. I hear with glee that Google is going to start using page loading speed in rankings).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m certaily no Luddite (though my other car is a Morris Minor, admittedly). I was reading eBooks on my PDA 9 years ago, and I was deeply into online communities 5 years before the web appeared. I simply think that smartarse technology that does not actually work is a backwards step. Like a car you can’t push start when the starter motor fails. Or a phone with support for hands-free Bluetooth that won’t permit auto-answer via the hands-free (yes you, Sony Ericsson). Or an OS that insists it cannot reboot on demand unless I manually shut down all manner of hidden processes yet which can reboot effortlessly in the night to install its own updates when I’d rather it did not.

I do rate technological features highly. It’s just that “it works” should come above all the others.

David Griffin is an engineer and tech writer.

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