Condescending Interface

Although I can appreciate the efforts in making our lives easier by applying technological advances to basic products, it’s starting to erode my self-image. It's understandable to want to  improve the picture quality of a television or the clarity of a voice in cell phones. These make a reasonable amount of sense, but for some reason, it seems like the boys down in R and D are exacting revenge on us for all the years of ridicule they suffered, taunted as nerds with pocket protectors. Having worked out their issues, they are now developing products for consumers, turning everyday items into condescending jerks.

I recently read of a refrigerator hotels are using that automatically bills a guest for merely moving a bottle of soda. This frankly is just spiteful. Why isn’t it good enough for a fridge to just keep things cool? Why does it now have to cheat people out of their money like some kind of circus carnie all because you were checking to see if they stocked a bottle of diet cola in the back? I’ve never stayed at an establishment using these, but I own plenty of other items that are just as hurtful.

My computer for example, it’s like working on a project together with a mean-spirited co-worker. While I diligently do my part, the computer just sits there, taking it all in then speaking only to point out my screw-ups. The spell and grammar check feature is the most obnoxious in its criticism of me. I fully admit my gross shortcomings in my spelling abilities, but to throw a glaring red line in my face immediately upon switching the i and e in believe, makes me feel like a puppy scolded for not going on the newspapers. 

The grammar check isn’t much better. I would appreciate the fact this tool explains the nature of an error a little more, if I wasn’t so put off by the curt tone it takes with me. “Fragment,” or “Wordiness,” is all it will utter with a mix of both disgust and impatience. Sometimes I’ll respond defiantly by clicking the, “Ignore Once” option. It’s a sad, passive aggressive attempt on my part to show I don’t have to listen if I don’t want. But, even in my moment of satisfaction, I still realize the “Once” portion exists to remind me how short lived my satisfaction will be. “Think you’re so smart huh?” it says. “That’s okay. You may blow me off this time, but you’ll just do it again. Losers are like that.”

I am fully aware I can disable this feature. The concept of “disabling” gives me the impression I can break the computer’s legs with a sledgehammer, but as much as I want to do this, I lack the self-confidence to go it alone in trusting myself to spell every word correctly or to avoid split infinitives. I am like the insecure girl continually running back to her abusive boyfriend even though she knows he’s just going to smack her around again.

Smelling weakness, the microwave joins in with a beeping sound made every thirty seconds upon finishing its assigned task. Forget to retrieve the meatloaf I was reheating and suddenly I’m being admonished for the inconvenience I’ve caused. It’s as if the microwave has plans and I’m holding it up from leaving. I’m sensitive enough as it is when I let others down, it doesn’t help to know the appliances are disappointed with me too. 

Now I’ve learned there are products out there that “talk” to one another. Stereos talk to computers about music selections. Televisions talk to refrigerators, which to me, seems odd. I can see the stereo and computer engaged in a deep discussion over shared interests, but I have to imagine the TV and fridge are limited to only small talk or the occasional chuckle over how the fridge swindled some family out of $80 because the kids got a little curious. The idea of this makes me nervous when I think about it. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to figure out I am a complete moron when it come to operating anything with an electrical cord. This is no secret. But to know the TiVo and cable box are carrying on a conversation behind my back really hurts.

“Can you believe this guy,” the TiVo might say as I take 30 minutes figuring out how to record a show. “I mean, I’ve seen some pretty stupid people in my time, but this doofus takes the cake!”

“Ya, It’s guys like him that make me believe in natural selection,” the cable box responds. Then they start laughing.

“Natural selection. That’s good!” the TiVo says between breaths. “I gotta write that down.”

They remind me of a couple burly dockworkers taking cruel pleasure in picking on the little guy. I pull a throw pillow to my face so they can’t see me crying.

The latest developments have been products that not only make fun of you, but they boss you around as well. The other day I was walking through the electronics store and saw a display for a digital camera that refuses to take a picture until the other person is smiling. At first I thought it to be rather impractical especially for families with angst ridden teens who dress only in Goth attire, but then I felt sick realizing its truly domineering nature. “I said SMILE!!!” I could just hear it demand, the thought of which frightened me. I’m already seeing a shrink about my self-esteem issues stemming from the abuse leveled at me by the agents of modern technology. If I can’t move past that, I’m now vulnerable to being controlled and manipulated by this new breed of techno-bullies as well.

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