Technology is not great at being helpful. I want technology that is useful, not helpful, and that’s a big distinction.
I’ve been trying to reduce my passive web browsing habits as part of Feed-Free 2018, and I noticed an additional trigger we need to watch out for: web browser start pages suggesting you visit the same sites you always visit.
I’m going to use web browser start pages as an example of tech trying to be helpful and actually making things worse, but it’s just that -- an example. This is happening everywhere you look in tech these days and picking on Siri or Cortana is too easy.
It used to be that a stock, unconfigured web browser would have some obnoxious news page when you opened it. MSN or Yahoo or some such thing. Some news, some weather, lots of busy over-designed color elements and pictures trying to grab your attention. Whatever. You just went into the settings and deleted the URL in the home page field or switched it to the empty tab option. I dunno the origins of about:blank, but it’s been my faithful friend since the only gal at the browser ball anyone wanted to dance with was Internet Explorer.
Chrome, the current popular gal at the browser dance, doesn’t have a URL it loads by default, but it does have a page full of stuff it thinks is helpful like recently visited sites and a feed of news it thinks I want to read.
So ... wait a second. Now every time I open a web browser, I have to be confronted with the horrible reality of the embarrassing sites I regularly visit and the trashy news I’m interested in? Yuck. I mean, I know I’m a total piece of human garbage when I use the internet just like everyone else but I don’t want to confront the horrible reality of it every few minutes!
Thankfully this is easy enough to fix on Chrome on a computer -- just add the ol’ blank new tab extension. But on mobile … there’s nothing you can do. You can get rid of most of it with some flag setting if you’re adventurous, but you can't remove the grid of commonly visited sites.
I’m not tied to Chrome on my phone, so I tried out Microsoft Edge and, well, I found the same thing.
Web browsers with no blank home page / tab option? That's a thing now?
What the hell is going on here? I just want a blank screen with an address bar when I open a web browser. I know where I’m going, I opened the damn thing for a reason. Don’t slow me down by loading stuff I don’t wanna see, and don’t distract me by showing me things I might want to see. I've got stuff to do, like search for that thing I was about to search for ... you know, that thing ... ah damn I forgot where I was going. Hmm. I guess I’ll just open Facebook.
The Thing With The Monkey
You have a sock drawer. Every day-ish you open it up, grab a pair of socks and put them on your feet. It’s no one’s favorite thing to do but no one thinks about making it easier.
But imagine someone wants to make that easier, so they train a monkey to pick out your socks and even put them on your feet. The monkey may be able to pick out the right socks most of the time. It may even be able to get them on your feet without needing major adjustments afterwards. But no one needs a damn monkey to do that.
The only people who aim to gain here are the monkey breeders.
Everywhere I look on the web and on my phone, all I see are people training monkeys to put our socks on us and then telling us how great it’ll be when we all have monkeys to deal with that annoying daily sock chore.
I get it, tech companies, with your lady-voice assistants and your AI and your ML and your wanting to create something that resembles a real person because your father never really loved you, but is that really what we need? Robot sock assistants?
I want nicer socks, not a monkey to help me put them on. Instead of training monkeys, try making socks that can withstand the sharp thread-dividing force that is an unclipped toenail.
The point is: give me a great tool that I can use, not one that tries to help me in places I don't need help. Don’t be the hammer that says upon being picked up, “Would you like to pound the nail in the picture frame hook in the hallway again? That’s the most recent nail you hammered.”
I know what I'm about to use that hammer for, thankyouverymuch, and it ain't a nail.
I probably could have called this post Clippy Syndrome or found a much better parallel than the whole monkey thing, like electric can openers that sound great as a concept but take up more space and are annoying to use and require electricity and are more expensive and oh yeah the manual ones are just fine if you have two working arms and hands. (Electric can openers being an excellent solution for single-handed people!) But I didn’t think of those until I wrote this whole thing and there's not time around here for rewrites. So you get monkeys. You're welcome.