Needless technology marches onward

I show up at work Monday morning and wade through a dozen email messages, all telling me I need to restart my computer because of a technology update pushed out over the weekend. Seems my company, one of the world’s largest publishers, had to load a new font. So tens of thousands of employees in three dozen countries around the world each waste five minutes, just so we can have access to Lucida Sans Unicode. Whoever she is.

A few hours later, I take a break at a nearby coffeehouse and attempt to fire up my netbook. But first I have to answer the question: Update with Internet Explorer 9 now, or Ask me later? Apparently Microsoft has designed a new hourglass icon that will keep me better entertained while I wait for the inevitable crash to follow, and they’re eager to rush this innovation out to their users. “Ask me later,” I answer, but only because they don’t have a “Don’t ever bring this up again” option.

Finally I get to WordPress and — oh, joy — they’ve added some new features. My daily view stats are now shown in bar graph form instead of the line chart that seemed perfectly adequate only last week. More upgrades are doubtless to come from the restless geniuses who brought us webhooks and widgets. I anticipate stats will next be shown in a pie chart, then a scatter diagram, then finally a Rorschach inkblot. (The more it looks like an upside-down bat wearing headphones, the more hits your blog has had.)

I’m getting a little tired of the endless and increasingly pointless applications of new technology for technology’s sake. I’m pretty certain that everything of value has already been invented, and now developers are simply gilding the lily in a never-ending attempt to seem current. The great leaps forward are over. We’re down to the new wrinkles and, as someone who’s pushing sixty, I can tell you that new wrinkles are not what I’m hoping to find as I boot up each morning.

Three recent examples of useless know-how have come across my radar in the last few weeks. How we ever picked our way through the digital landscape before these arrived, I’ll never know.

The Gap

Retail clothing giant The Gap announced a few weeks ago that it was replacing its 20-year-old logo with a new iteration. The company name is still spelled correctly, which is good enough for a fashion-challenged Ross Dress For Less shopper like me. Apparently, though, that wasn’t enough for its trendy customers who not only want to overspend on their wardrobe budget but be aesthetically uplifted by a blue insignia at the same time. Customers rebelled and took to the digital realm to show their displeasure.

But The Gap didn’t get to be The Gap without keeping its finger on the pulse of its clientele. They know customers without a detectable heartbeat aren’t going to be opening up their wallets, nor will customers whose artistic sensibilities are shaken to the core by the grotesque eyesore on the right above. The Gap used its Facebook page to acknowledge the growing protest.

“Thanks for everyone’s input on the new logo!” they crowed optimistically. “We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we’re thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! We love our version, but we’d like to see other ideas. Stay tuned for details on this crowd sourcing project.”

And so the people spoke, and by “spoke,” I mean they tried to type coherent comments without the benefit of grammar-check:

“That is a horrible logo,” said Ashanti Ward. “I am a huge gap fan but this is not a new logo its lame!!!”

“As if your new logo isn’t enough of a slap in the face to the design community,” wrote April Moen, “now you want us to provide you with free work?”

“HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE!” observed Nicole Guillen. “Please bring the old logo back! The new one is horrible and not classy at all! It looks so cheap, I just hate it!”

“You’re the freakin’ Gap,” wrote Joanna Dee. “You got loads of money! Use it to pay for a new logo designed by industry professionals and trash this disgusting new logo that looks like someone’s vomit.”

This is how people protest corporate malfeasance these days? In my time, we held Big Business accountable through actions, not words. When defense contractors made huge profits off the carpet bombing of Southeast Asia, we organized boycotts and held candlelight vigils. When New Coke was introduced to replace Classic Coke with a sweeter, more Pepsi-like formula, we besieged the Atlanta headquarters, refusing to allow executives to leave the building until they saw the error of their ways. We didn’t whine and moan on their Facebook page.

But that’s apparently what works in these modern, plugged-in times. The Gap issued a press release Monday, quoting company president Marka Hansen as saying “All of the comments say over and over that they are passionate about our blue box logo and want it back. So we’ve decided to do that.” What else could they do? A Twitter account opposing the change had gathered 5,000 followers and more than 2,000 comments were posted on Facebook. The people had spoken and the people had won.

MyPanera

My favorite bagel and free wi-fi outlet is a franchise called Panera Bread. When I stopped by for a sesame and a schmear not long ago, I was asked to join the new MyPanera customer loyalty program. At an online terminal set up right there next to the counter, I could enter all my personal information and, in return, I’d receive a colorful piece of hard, swipe-able plastic and something called “rewards.”

Just for signing up, I got a free pastry. If I offered up my new card every time I made future purchases, I’d eventually earn other as-yet-unspecified rewards. I could only hope this included the right to keep my birthdate and phone number out of the hands of minimum-wage employees eager to sell my data to scammers.

I was issued a user name and password so I could keep track of my “account” online if I wanted to. When I investigated further a few days later, I expected to find perhaps a list of future premiums, maybe a list of participating locations, maybe a way to opt out of junk emails. Instead, I found out way more about my dining habits than I cared to.

Did you know that I ordered a cinnamon roll at 8:37 a.m. on Sept. 28? That I bought a Fuji apple chicken salad the following evening at 6:49? That I purchased a decorative mug at 4:12 on the afternoon of Oct. 2, returned it three minutes later (I found a crack in the base), then bought another mug two minutes after that?

Every transaction I now made with any of the 1,362 Panera locations around the world was being recorded and tracked. I’m not sure I understand the benefits of having access to this level of detail about my loyalty to Panera. But if I ever have to prove in a court of law that I couldn’t have murdered the victim in question because at the precise time of death I was buying a bowl of low-fat chicken noodle soup with a whole grain baguette as the side, I now had a digital alibi.

The Charlotte Observer

No need to adjust your glasses if the photo above appears out of focus. It’s supposed to be that way. It’s something called 3-D printing and, apparently, it’s the latest way for the NASCAR-loving readers of the Charlotte Observer to look at the pretty pictures while ignoring all those boring wordy parts.

Our largest regional newspaper proudly printed a two-part supplement on Sunday titled “Comin’ At You.” It came with a pair of disposable 3-D glasses and featured some 20 pages of fuzzy photographs recounting the history of NASCAR and promoting the upcoming race being held at the local speedway.

There’s a huge blurry picture of a Winnebago RV, barely outrunning an exploding fireball to jump over the world’s biggest outhouse from a 1996 pre-race show. There’s a huge blurry picture of U.S. Army helicopters executing a touch landing just off the front-stretch of the Coca-Cola 600 race in a reenactment of the 1983 American invasion of Grenada. And, as you can almost make out in the image above, there’s a huge blurry picture of a pit crew changing tires in as little as 14 seconds, or maybe it’s the massacre at Tiananmen Square, or maybe that scene in the movie 300 where a bunch of naked guys jump off a clip.

Even some of the ads are in stereoptics. There’s a particularly compelling one from the folks at MetLife, which includes a 3-D chart showing the monthly premiums for 10-year term life insurance for non-smoking males between the ages of 40 and 70. The Bank of America ad shows tailgaters enjoying a pre-race cookout. Enjoy the ad; just be sure not to wear the special glasses into your local bank branch unless you want to be charged with attempted armed robbery.

Besides giving me a gigantic headache from which I’m still recovering, this special section demonstrated that print media can still be relevant in the digital age. It also provided future excuses for the Observer production team to explain how the notoriously unreliable four-color printing process is again out of register. It’s not hazy and ill-defined because of our poor quality control on a high-speed press. It’s supposed to be that way. And the huge blob of black ink covering half the editorial page, the mangled comics section, and those annoying thin ribbons of newsprint that have fallen into your lap. Those are intentional too.

It’s all high-tech, don’t you see?

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2 Responses to “Needless technology marches onward”

  1. Stentorphone Says:

    …”Did you know that I ordered a cinnamon roll at 8:37 a.m. on Sept. 28? That I bought a Fuji apple chicken salad the following evening at 6:49? That I purchased a decorative mug at 4:12 on the afternoon of Oct. 2, returned it three minutes later (I found a crack in the base), then bought another mug two minutes after that?…”

    I laughed out loud when I got to that part, Davis. You sold your pre-Orwellian soul for a pastry!

    Whenever a clerk asks me for my customer loyalty info anywhere, I ask if divulging it on this visit will save me any money. If the answer is no, I pass on sharing the number.

    The place that used to drive me crazy the quickest was Radio Shack. I’d make a cash purchase (cash!), and they’d want my zip code, address, etc. I’d tell them to broaden their horizons by reading 1984.

    As the former CEO of Sun Microsystems said some years back-“You have no privacy on the internet. Get over it.”

  2. jedwardswright Says:

    Mother Hen weighing in just to say, “So, the original Gap logo was supposed to be such a masterpiece? It is a friggin’ square with three letters on it!”
    Mother needs to get into the graphic arts biz.

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