Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Great Leap Backwards

Is it just me, or are you finding that some of our technology, while it is light-years ahead in making our life more convenient, is doing so at a cost of quality?

The digital age has made things faster, but is it better?

I'm noticing a trend in some of the pieces of technology that I use every day, and in comparing them to the way things were in the past, I don't think our society is better off for them.

My latest pet peeves with technology deal with telephones, cars, and smartphones.

IP phones have been around for a while—a few years, anyways—and they seem to be on the rise. Because they can be tied to computers, their functionality has become increasingly dynamic, especially in the realm of public-safety call taking.

I know this fact because I work in the industry.

At the office, I use an IP phone. I say I use it but I don't use it to its full potential. I make phone calls, answer the phone when it rings, I record phone greetings depending on whether or not I'm in the office, and I retrieve any recorded messages that I might have received when I was away from my desk.

On a traditional land line, I enjoy a crisp, clear voice from whomever is speaking to me. That person's voice sounds pretty much the same as when I'm standing in front of him or her. When I use an IP phone, however, the speaker's voice sometimes sounds digitized and is not always sharp. When I speak, I hear my own voice in the speaker, and it sounds artificial.

If I'm conversing on my IP phone with someone who is also using an IP phone, the sound quality is horrible. There are echos. Both voices sound synthesized. The quality of the line is akin to communicating through tin cans and string.

I'm not criticizing my company. We don't make the phones.

I prefer using a good old-fashioned phone to an IP phone. It feels better and sounds better. With an IP phone, the technology may be more advanced but the quality has taken a huge step backwards.

Automobiles have also incorporated more technology into them, using more and more computer chips with touch-screen features. The mechanics who service these cars are more computer technicians than they are grease monkeys (no offense to mechanics and monkeys, alike).

A few months ago, my car was having a glitch with its transmission, where the start from a standing stop would be jerky, as though the car was trying to accelerate on a rain-soaked street, with the drive wheels on road paint, and it was trying to gain purchase of the asphalt.

When I took my car in to fix the problem, I was surprised to learn that the solution was to upgrade the car's software. I told the service rep that the issue with the car felt mechanical but I was assured that the mechanics were controlled by a computer.

My car didn't have a mechanical issue: it had a computer bug.

This week, my car, still experiencing the same problem, is returning to the shop to have an actual part replaced. It seems that my call was correct. The problem is now a known issue, and the mechanical fix should solve the problem.

But I'm taking my car in for other issues, ones that deal with the technology. My car is supposed to synch with my smartphone. It has Bluetooth technology that allows me to make hands-free calls with my phone, and when my phone is plugged into the USB port in the storage compartment, I can use voice-activated commands to control the music on my device. I can tell it to play a shuffled mix, a playlist, an artist, or a specific song.

Only, for some reason, the voice-activated system will not respond to my command for a USB device. If I say, "USB," as the command requires, there is a moment of silence before the radio, which plays when I'm not listening to music, resumes.

When my voice fails to activate music, I resort to the touch screen. Sometimes, it doesn't show a device connected. Sometimes, a device is shown as connected, but I can't get it to play. Other times, the last-played song appears in the display but the Play button doesn't start the song.

On a couple of occasions, though it hasn't happened in a couple of months, I would start the car and notice that the clock was showing the wrong time. I'm not talking about being off by a minute or two: I mean that the time is not even close, not by hours nor by minutes.

In all of the cars that I've owned in the past, in all of the cars I've driven (when I lived with my parents, we had hundreds of cars: my father sold cars and would drive demos, and in the 80s it wouldn't be surprising for him to bring a different car home every day. Some days, he'd leave the house with one car, sell it, and come home with a different demo. I drove most of them), I've never had to reset a clock beyond changing the time for daylight savings.

I've reset the clock at least a half-dozen times, and I haven't had the car for a year yet (next week marks its anniversary with us).

The frustration that the technology in my car has given me has made me long for an old manual transmission and a cassette player. The inconvenience and failure to get devices to work makes me think that the automobile has taken a step backwards.

My latest disappointment with technology comes over the latest OS upgrade in my phone. And, in truth, this disappointment applies to OS upgrades in many computers.

When an operating system is updated, the designers and developers seem to feel the need to change how the operation of the system works. Things that are familiar are gone or placed elsewhere, making the user have to learn how to use the device all over again.

Microsoft did this with the change to Windows 8. I've had that "upgrade" on my computer for a few months, and I'm still learning how to find things. I want my Start button back.

This week, I updated my iPhone and iPad to iOS 7. Never mind that it took more than two hours to update my tablet, almost an hour to update my phone. When the updates were finished, I was left with two new devices.

There was a distinct learning curve to finding how Safari works with searches (the URL line and search line are now the same line). There are buttons with symbols that aren't intuitive. But what bothers me the most is that the graphics for the Apple apps are downright ugly. The old graphics had eye-appealing definition; the new graphics look like they were designed by a kindergartener. Everything is flat and the colours are unappealing.

For me, the smart in my phone is diminished. It too has taken a step backwards.

How about you? Is there a piece of technology that has made more work for you, has made life less convenient or has you thinking blah? Leave a comment.

For me, I tend to use my IP phone as little as possible and keep the conversations short. With my car, I hope my service visit fixes the bugs; otherwise, I'm going to reconsider future vehicles with gadgets (my van has only a couple of years left in it).

And as for my tablet and phone? I hope there are enough people who feel the same about the new OS that updates are made to revert the operations to the way they used to be. If this is the best that Apple can do, my next phone might be an old flip phone.

Those never let me down.


  1. Recently, Nic and I decided to take our lives to outer Ottawa; the boonies. Where we live, we no longer have internet access let alone Wi-Fi. We are a family to likes to buy our food from the farm 1km down the road, and make our kids play in the field, or on the tire swing. Yes, we are "old-fashioned" if you will. I digress.
    Every now and then, when it is raining outside, and the kids (8,9y/o) are done with drawing, making forts, or pretending they are "hobo's" (they actually walk around with sticks and bags full of their belongings and develop this awkward accent ha ha), they turn to "their" iPhones (an old iPhone 3 and 4 that they acquired) to play a game.
    Since moving to the country, they can't play on their favourite games anymore because these games require Wi-Fi in order to be able to operate. This is the most frustrating thing ever, as the kids don't really understand why this is. They VERY rarely get to play on games that aren't from a box, and now we are having to tell them that their techy toys are useless where we live :( I have noticed lately that the apps on our phones are becoming to large in file size and memory, that they are not able to just... work! We have resorted back to Game Boy.
    On another note, I recently installed a sweet navi thingy in my Subi that I don't know how to work (I know how to work the Subi, but the stereo thing and GPS is sort of beyond me still). We got it all plugged in, and ta-da! It worked...except one thing. The USB port and "iPod" feature didn't function. Why? Well, despite the fact that this system is iOS friendly, it is "too old". This is when I gave in. If it is too old, then so am I.
    Final words: Things are starting to go too fast for me, and I am only 32. I feel like life is starting to bend around the full circle it takes. I welcome a step backward, and hope the "wizards" see how things are getting too complicated to maintain and thus, are all falling apart.
    I am not sure if this is even related...but your blog definitely sparked something here! Thanks.


    1. Games that rely on WiFi have got to be the worst invention ever. Thanks for your comment, Jenn. Great story!