Upgrade Hell

Published in the Wall Street Journal


RECENTLY I heard that Twitter redesigned its bird. That logo. The little white bird.

I have only recently mastered the language of Twitter—well, most of it. There are still a few symbols I'm clueless about. And I'm worried. Is Twitter going to do to me what Facebook has done?

I don't mean the IPO. I don't mean Facebook and Morgan Stanley zapping the average stockholder by concealing a poor future earnings report from all but the privileged. I did not buy this stock. I was already one of the disillusioned. I have enough trouble policing our savings and checking accounts. Last month, for instance, Chase made a $3,000 error in their favor on my husband's account. Is this Jamie Dimon's scheme for getting some of his billions back?

But I digress. What's wrong with Facebook isn't deception, isn't that it may one day get sued by a ton of people for it or for revealing what it knows about us. What's wrong with Facebook is the Timeline.

The Timeline, for anyone who isn't on it, is the redesign of the Facebook page. It has been—this word I am now terrified of—upgraded. The Facebook page used to be quite basic. Even a moron (me) could understand it. At the top of the page you posted a message. Below that, "friends" could respond, and below that were your earlier posts. Now thanks to this newer better thing called a Timeline—I'm sure many people, younger people, understand why it's called this, but I don't—there are multiple columns. The Facebook page is now completely confusing. What is new? What is old? The messages are where? Where? Your eye is flying around having no idea where to land.

Microsoft's Word "improves" itself constantly. I just got a new computer and was forced into a $149 upgrade. I also had to spend $199 on a new version of Final Draft, the software program that screenwriters use. "Don't get 8 whatever you do, it's worse than 7," I was warned by screenwriter friends. Final Draft 7 is so preferred that the other week I found one for sale on eBay for $400.

Upgrades are rarely better or easier. In the previous version of Word, if you wanted to do something simple like use bold face or italics or perhaps center a paragraph, the options stretched across the top of your screen in a friendly here-I-am-click-on-me-kind-of-way.

In the current version, everything is hidden. One is helpless in the face of technology marching needlessly on. Where is bold face? Italics? Hello? After endless searching—and it is risky to click on anything unknown on a computer because you can end up in a cyber world you can't escape from . . . then you will have to call tech support and that will surely wreck your day—after clicking willy-nilly, I found, under VIEW, something called "Formatting Palette." Palette? I'm not a painter but hey, I clicked on it and up popped a small box with all the options—bf, ital, font size, etc.—crammed into it. I practically needed a magnifying glass to use it. And would I remember where it was when I needed it next?

The television show, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" proves that adults often aren't. When it comes to upgrades they surely are not. A fifth grader who's been using a computer, as many have, since kindergarten, could have found bold face in 10 seconds.

Baby-boomers cannot keep learning new things, stuffing new information into their overcrowded brains. We're already passing out from it. We're being upgraded into obsolescence.

I don't want more options. I want fewer options. There are 60 buttons on my remote control and I have used 12 of them. Sometimes I hit the wrong button and a tiny screen pops up in the corner of my big one, and I can't get rid of it.

Which brings me to "Law and Order," arguably the most successful television franchise ever. "Law and Order," in reruns at almost every hour of the day or night, is as relentlessly repetitive as a metronome. Every episode begins the same way—a body is found. This discovery is followed by a few ominous musical beats, the same ominous musical beats every episode. Two detectives go from place to place. We know that because each place is announced with the same musical cue, plus words on the screen tell us exactly where they are. Or I should say, more importantly, the words tell us exactly where we are. At between 27 and 29 minutes past the hour, a bad guy is arrested and the show switches from law to order.

When Dick Wolf, the creator, spun out other versions, such as Law and Order SVU, he kept the format virtually the same. Only the nature of the crimes changed. In this chaotic world of constant upgrades, where I can't even find bold face, I am so grateful to him. All I want is for someone not to change something I love. All I want is for someone to keep it simple.

This month Apple unveiled a new iPhone with 200 more features. Facebook announced recently that it was going to develop a smartphone. My phone is already too smart for me and I assume this new phone will be smarter. All a smarter phone means is another way for me to feel dumber.

published in the Wall Street Journal