Sunday, February 12, 2012
TECHNOLOGY MARCHES ON
I am writing the very first blog post on my new computer! Over the years I’ve gone through a number of changes from a clunky old PC with a DOS operating system, to a NeXt, to a Mac desktop, to a couple of different models of Mac laptop. During this journey I have learned to hate new computers because there’s always a lot of hassle and down time. However, switching from my “old” Mac PowerBook G4 to the new MacBook Pro was, with a couple of exceptions, seamless. I was amazed. All of my documents and graphics files moved right over via an external hard drive and are now living happily on the MacBook. My Safari bookmarks and e-mail address book also moved over seamlessly.
What was disappointing, though, was my experience with Firefox. The new version is cumbersome to use, even more so than the old one. It won’t accept any bookmarks exported from Safari even though it claims it will; there is no “export bookmarks” function on the old Firefox, nor is there an “import bookmarks” function on the new one. With problems like this, you may wonder why I would even bother with Firefox. There is only one reason, but it’s a compelling one. Safari can’t handle uploading of graphics to my website. Firefox can. That’s it. The moral of the story: No single browser can handle everything. The reasons behind this escape me, but I suspect it has to do with geekly rigidity. Safari and Firefox, are you listening?
The second big issue is the dysfunctional MacMail setup procedure (Apple, are you listening?) and the special problems that arise when MacMail encounters the university’s arcane e-mail system. That system is primitive and cumbersome to use, so I have all of my university e-mail forwarded to Mac Mail. Or I would have it forwarded, if only I could figure out how to do it. The MacMail setup program and help menu are no help at all, so on Monday I’ll have to enlist the services of one of the departmental IT specialists to take care of it. Getting my music library into the new I-Tunes is yet another issue that I’ll have to deal with, but I-Tunes is another major rant for another day.
You might be wondering why I needed a new computer at all when my old one still works. At some level, I wonder the same. Unfortunately, computers and software are designed to become obsolete in a few years. I finally got tired of Safari crashing every time it encountered some “new” experience on a website, I got tired of restarting my computer to revive Safari from its ever-increasing number of fainting spells, I got tired of looking at a pink, blotchy screen that looked like it was about to blank out, I got tired of not being able to update utilities or run disk repair because my old operating system was “no longer supported”, and I got tired of not being able to read my students’ papers submitted as docx files. Yes, there’s a Microsoft “patch” conversion program, but it only works about 75% of the time. Typical Microsoft. (Microsoft, I know you won’t hear me, and if you did, you wouldn’t listen). Deliberate incompatibility designed to sell new hardware and software angers me. As far as I can see, the new Word program is the same as the old one, except that the tool bars have been rearranged. All I want to do is type. I don’t want to make graphics in Word. I can make tables and graphs in Excel (which also seems unchanged) and pictures in Photoshop. As long as I can stick them in a document that anyone can open and read, I’m fine.
Lots of memory is good. Fast parallel processing is good. A screen that practically glows and looks almost 3-D is good. A smaller, lighter laptop is good. However, I probably won’t ever use many of the features that go above and beyond the simple things I need to do every day, and it’s depressing to think that this shiny new computer is itself well on the way to becoming obsolete.
I am one of those increasingly rare people who consider technology a means to an end, not an end in itself. I’m not interested in helping “grow” the economy by buying a new computer or phone every 5 years. I just want my computer to enable me to write documents, make graphics, and do my business on the internet. I just want to talk to people on my phone, not use it as a camera or word processor or GPS or TV or video game machine. I don’t want a lot of needy technology devices taking up the time and resources I could spend doing activities I really enjoy, like actually writing my thoughts down, or making perfume.