Sitting here in Denver Airport, I think I have finally lost my faith in technology innovation. And the reason? That fiendish creation of the Gates empire, Microsoft Word.
Like a good believer, I have persevered with my faith in technology innovation as a driver of social progress. There have been niggling doubts for sure. But I’ve held fast—until now. While struggling this evening with yet another MS Word document that didn’t survive the traumatic transfer from a PC to (horror of horrors) a Mac, everything become clear—the promise of technology innovation is nothing but a myth, created to feed our insatiable desire for change.
Eighteen years ago, I was writing my thesis—on a Mac—using an early incarnation of Microsoft Word. I typed, and what appeared on the screen matched what came out of the printer. I added equations—complex ones at that. I included textbook-quality diagrams. And my final thesis looked as good as anything I’ve produced since.
The system worked—it made my life easier. And it worked from a single 3½ inch disk (remember those?) that contained the Mac’s operating system, the word processor, and all the documents I was working on.
So what has changed in the intervening eighteen years? How has technology innovation improved my life as I type away?
These days, I type into the latest version of Word, and the system hangs up on me. I try adding equations, and can’t get the formatting right. I attempt to include diagrams, and the program places them everywhere but where I want them to go. I open documents from PC-using colleagues, to be faced with text and images in places they were never meant to be.
And all this from a program that now takes up well over fifty times the disk space of its predecessor, and needs a super-computer to run on.
So much for progress.
But it gets worse.
People actually use this program. They take its flaws in their stride. They go to great lengths to explain how, when things go wrong, you are the problem. They enthuse over the thousand and one features that contribute precisely nothing to good writing. They even change their work habits to match the program’s foibles.
In other words, they adapt to fit the technology.
This I find deeply disturbing. People, it seems, don’t strive to do things better. They strive to do things different. And technology innovation gives them the opportunities they so avidly seek—even if it makes life harder.
How else do you explain a society that, in eighteen years, has so thoroughly embraced a product that enables them to do less for more?
Of course, my judgment might be slightly clouded by the current dogs-dinner of a document sitting in front of me that I’m expected to read and edit. Maybe technology innovation really does improve people’s lives sometimes. Maybe I should hold off on forming the Tech Innovation Unbeliever’s Association for now.
But it does make you wonder whether we’re addicted to the change that technology innovation brings rather than the progress it promises.
And if we are, I wonder what the treatment is—tech innovation rehab?
I can see the queues forming now for the Microsoft Word Recovery Center.
Written in Ommwriter – which is not made by Microsoft.