On the Beach

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Simplification without permission

There is a general assumption in the world that all progress is good, that nothing must stand still, that everything that exists can be improved.

I disagree, things are being redesigned around me, made faster and simpler and no one even asked me.


I think the flushing toilet is a miraculous invention. It needed no improvement. Really- sit, flush and leave. What more could we want?

Apparently there are very clever people out there, who- rather than going into professions where their skills could be well used- go into redesigning toilets. I'd say it was to spite me, but I know I'm not that important.

Toilets in shopping centres in Cape Town are amazing. Weird thing to say, but they are. Beautifully designed, clean. Actually far too good for most people that go in there. They're probably around the right standard for J-Lo and the Queen of England. Marble, glass, light..and they're free! I feel quite guilty using these divine facilities as I come rushing in with a toddler that just dipped half their head in ice cream and chocolate sauce.

The aesthetics I can handle. It's he redesign of what I will call "the toilet process". Which, I must say, causes me no end of anxiety.

Example 1: you enter the cubicle and a sign proudly states that "this toilet flushes automatically on exit". Which I read as: 'Every time you exhale too deeply or even shift slightly, Victoria Falls is going to be reenacted behind you". Toddlers, not know for their ability to sit still, do not fare well on these toilets.

Example 2: you enter the cubicle and the sign states "Touch/ wave in front of  the light to flush". This is all very well and good if the light is on and if it feels like responding you your touch/wave. If it's not feeling in a good mood, you end up waving repeatedly or slapping the wall like the village idiot, all the time anxious that it won't flush.

Wasn't life simpler when we just pulled a chain or pushed a button?

The anxiety and humiliation doesn't end there. Step up to the sinks, which are no longer sinks but slabs of marble, inclining towards the wall. There is no tap to turn but a stainless steel wedge where you invited to put your hands under the "movement sensitive" tap to wash your hands. If it works, it works briefly and gushes. And you must hold your hands in exactly the same place but move them slightly all the time to keep the "movement sensor" happy. Alternatively, they don't work at all and you are left jabbing repeatedly at the air under the wedge, like a mime who never made it big.

Was life so hard when we pulled the chain, pushed the button or turned on a top?

Phone Apps and Mobi Sites

Smart phones have revolutionised life in many ways. My daughters take it for granted that if they have a question and I can't answer it, I can simply look on my phone and find out. A mine of information in your hand: the Internet wherever and whenever you need it. Wonderful.

Except someone tried to simplify it for me. Again, without asking.

For the last few months it seems I am unable to do anything as basic as checking the weather or the news headlines without being ambushed by a bright and energetic screen inviting me to "GET THE APP!! FASTER, SLEEKER, SIMPLER" . I don't want an App- if I have many more apps I will need a separate App to provide an index of my apps or carry an index the size of the yellow pages with me. I just want to check the weather. Please, can I just?

OK, so I shut down the App offer (not before struggling to touch the screen exactly in the place and inadvertently almost installing the damn thing). And, lucky me, I'm on a mobi site! "Welcome to our mobi site! "SLEEKER, FASTER, SIMPLER!! This site has been simplified for use with smart phones. Content is reduced, the options simplified- perfect if you've been recently lobotomised and prefer one syllable words!" I might have made that last part up. The assumption seems to be that if your screen is smaller, then your brain must be smaller and there is simply, absolutely no way your pea size brain could ever, ever handle the FULL weather forecast. Just keywords with odd symbol. We can't be overloading you now, can we, you poor simple soul!

I wouldn't mind if it was easy enough to get to the "full site" but in some cases, it won't let you do so at all and, in others it is such a mission that I have lost the will to live and  forgotten what it was I was looking for in the first place.

Was Internet on phones not enough?

Predictive text

...is my final bugbear (for today anyway).

I see the point and, at times, it can be very helpful but, I think what gets me is its arrogance, its assumption that its suggestion is somehow superior to what you have in mind. Once it has made a suggestion, it sticks with it to the bitter, bitter end, even if it is a word that obviously doesn't fit in the sentence. And the little cross to shut down the suggestion is so, so small, so hard to  to shut down like it thinks its chances of being wrong are so minor that shutting it down is really unlikely to happen.

It's not good if you're in a hurry- which I always seem to be.  And it can lead to results that, at worst, are insulting and, at best ridiculous. The other day, I received an SMS from a friend asking if I was happy being a plate. She's nuts, but not that nuts. I vote for a return to spell check.

Next time you want to simplify something for me, please ask first.

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