Maybe tech needs less ch-ch-ch-change?

In the never-ending rush for something new, something better, something improved, perhaps what we really need is an operational pause.

Two truisms. Change is good. People don't like change. Lately, the latter one has been winning with me in relation to tech. I feel like the constant pace of intended improvements is making things worse, not better.

I know, I sound like a curmudgeon. I also know I focus on change that leaves me dissatisfied far more than change that's improved my life. But still, the negative changes have recently built up enough that I've got a litany to get off my chest.

TomTom GPS unit
Trying to update my two TomTom GPS units got me thinking about, as David Bowie sings, ch-ch-ch-changes. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Maybe I'll feel better for doing it. Maybe others will feel better if I've hit on some sore spots they have as well. But more than anything, I beg and pray that people making our tech products drop some of the "you'll grow to love it" attitude that they sometimes have and think more about preserving the things we like already.

Notifications are supposed to be a great advance on our phones, but right now, I feel like things have gotten out of control. Somehow, it seems like more and more apps are shoving them down my virtual throat.

I know, I know. I can go into Notification Center in the iPhone and disable them by app there. I did, though Instagram seemed not to care. Over on Android, Google+ seemed to send whatever notifications it wanted to until I found the right setting by drilling down into the application. I want one big giant button for both my iPhone and my Android phones that says turn them all off. 

I might come back to dealing with notifications in a future column, along with their cousin, getting your phone not to download data until you tell it to. Anyone else finding the best way to do this is to put your phone in airplane mode? It kind of messes up the actual phone functionality of your smartphone, but it sure does work to put data on hold until you want it to flow.

Speaking of phones, Samsung's new  Galaxy S III  has been unveiled. Hurray, yet another supersized phone! I keep wanting to figure out a "thumb-reach" ratio that we can assign to new phones, as a way to illustrate that if you use your thumb to type, the size escalation means you'd better have the thumbs of a giant. I love my Galaxy S II Skyrocket. The only thing that would make it better would be to make it smaller. That, apparently, isn't in the works. Bigger is better, many gadget makers seem to think.

Then there's my Verizon mobile hotspot unit. The old Novatel 3G one I had allowed me to tether the it using a USB cable. I liked that. It meant I wasn't wasting battery life using WiFi to talk to the unit that was inches away from my computer. It meant I always had a good, stable connection. When I moved to a Samsung 4G LTE mobile hotspot last year, I found that among the "improvements" was no USB tethering support. Why? It was nice. It worked great, and I really miss it.

Chartbeat is an awesome real-time tracking tool that I love. Recently, it changed the way it displays statistics. Now I feel lost. I love you, Chartbeat, I really do. I know you mean well with the changes. But I also want a "give me the old look" button.

Design changes like Chartbeat's aren't unique, of course. They happen all the time. Google+ underwent one last month, and I was pretty vocal about disliking it. Today, I can't even remember how it used to look. Score one to Google and designers everywhere who know how people initially scream about change then adjust.

Then again, I'm still struggling at times to remember how to post if I'm on my Profile page (oh, yes, go back to Home), and all that white space still feels like a big waste. I'm sure when the ads finally arrive, that'll take care of things.

Over at Facebook, my chat turns itself on time and time again. Why? I don't know. I've even had long discussions with Facebook tech folks to diagnose the reason. All I know is that when Facebook added the new sidebar chat format last year, they thought they were doing me a favor, making an improvement. Instead, it's become a pain. Damn, my chat's on again.

There there's Excel, which had radical changes a few years ago that I still struggle with. I miss the ability I used to have to make charts from non-contiguous columns or to format a table without having the header cells turn into drop-down menus. I'm sure there are workarounds to these, but I don't have time to try to relearn what used to work just fine, until Excel broke everything.

Finally, there's what kicked off this rant, trying to update my two TomTom GPS units. The older one requires using the TomTom Home software; the newer one uses a Web interface to do updates. Two different computers, Mac and PC, have problems recognizing either unit. Then the newer one finally tells me it's all updated, only to squawk the next day when I'm driving that my maps are nine months out of date.

I want my tech to just work. If new features are introduced, I want them made obvious to me, along with ways to control them. I don't want to have to relearn my products over and over again. I want some respect paid to the habits formed and knowledge already acquired rather than feeling like it all gets tossed out. 

So please, tech designers and product folks, give me and others a break. Perhaps think more carefully if you really do need to make that tweak? With so many changes in our lives already, do we absolutely need one more?

If you give us more care, I promise to actually read more through instructions when provided. I'll also continue to appreciate the advances you've given us. Goodness knows I'm glad we're not back in the days of recording things on VHS or listening to music on 8-track tapes.

 

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