Saturday, March 22, 2014

The culture around us is dying.

People around us are clearly and without exaggeration becoming increasingly dumber.

Why do I say this?  First it was one particular newspaper that one day I refused to read any longer because of its recurrent and frequent typos.  Now it’s reputable news organizations that cannot type correctly (Reuters comes to mind) and government agencies that misspell words in electronic transcriptions of legal documents (NYS and NJ local government likewise come to mind).  In fact, notice that I just used the contraction “it’s,” which is not the possessive pronoun “its” and has no apostrophe, regardless of the fact that even some English teachers apparently do not know about when they type messages in public forums and conflate the words in question.

The failure of English teachers is not limited to the written expression of their own thoughts.  At first, within my lifetime, large grammatical mistakes on the part of students and former students of English teachers were limited to predictable sets like their/there/they’re and it’s/its, or pseudo-corrective whom for subjective who, or the very foolish “between you and I” for “between me and you,” et cetera.  People among us were imbeciles, but at least you could more or less understand what they were saying.

However, people have since then graduated from the level of imbeciles to morons* and now they have trouble in even attempting to form a grammatical sentence when they type online or via text.  After all, who in the world actually says “Do it safe to go there after dark?” or “We can’t even deleted old questions now” in real life? Yet bizarre sentences like these keep showing up in people’s writing; these things also are almost as simultaneously infuriating and depressing as someone’s once trying to correct me by insisting that “I’ve drunk” is ungrammatical while “I’ve drank” is suddenly both the only way anyone talks and the only way you were taught to talk in English class in grade school.  (Yeah, didn’t you know?  Past participles no longer exist and they really never existed to begin with.)

Another part of the equation, or another proof that people around are becoming apes, is the continuing trend of each “New and Improved!” version of a computer program or a website to suck more than its previous version.  I’ll come back to the point in a moment, but first let me shift gears slightly to talk about a certain Bible website which had gross typographical errors in several verses there.  These errors were ones in which spaces did not separate two distinct words: something which is entirely unacceptable.  These errors were not very few in number, and eventually I used an email address provided by the website such that I could tell them about the errors there.  Those errors would not have been present in the first place if we lived in a world where people still knew what the phrase “quality control” meant or believed in ensuring that every work of theirs was a quality work.  Remember this.**

Now let’s go back to the subject of “New and Improved!” versions of computer programs and websites.  Any time a website that you frequent emails you or otherwise tells you that a new version of that website will soon be introduced, you know it’s going to suck.  No one reading this is a spring chicken or a sucker who was born yesterday; as you know, new versions of software always move two steps back for every one step forward as numerous helpful features in one version of the website--and of various computer programs--are removed in the next version.

Why was the prone command from Star Wars: Battlefront (not the remake but the real one) absent in Battlefront II?  Answer: allegedly it was too easy to accidentally put your character into the prone position.  Why was the ability to freely place icons in any desired arrangement absent in Windows 7 though it is present in Windows XP?  Answer: allegedly it was too easy to place icons in the wrong place.  I am told that these are the reasons given by members of respective software companies for removing functionality from their software: all of us are idiots, and they will continue to treat us as such.  Of course, in reality not everyone is an idiot, and a result of these companies’ decisions is actually more work for some of us who use their software. 

Were new generations of Yahoo! Mail and Gmail really new and improved?  No.  They were dumbed-down products which required some of us to guess just what the heck this unintuitive icon (with no written description) means or just what the heck to click on this other unintuitive icon (with no written description) will do if I press the mouse button over it.  Yep: more work for the user, just so Yahoo! and Google would have a trendy, hip, contemporary user-interface.

Yahoo! Answers: are there more than 10% of its veteran users that actually prefer its new format over the previous one?  Nope.  Ask any other veteran user and they will tell you that the latest big overhaul at Yahoo! Answers sucks, which it does.  And why is the new format so lousy?  You guessed it: fewer features and more work that the user must now do.  After all, let no one claim that it is a matter of learning curves or old habits, for it is undeniable that to get from one section of that website to another now requires more steps than it previously did.

In fact, Yahoo! Answers today just got worse, as if that were possible.  They’ve now obscured people’s names when they pose a question and purposely hide some of the details of the extended form of the question: they make you click on “show more” to keep reading, which means more work for the user.  (Ironically, another change was the removal of the community vote, which will have the effect of de-incentiving the hard work that is often needed for a quality answer at that website.  In other words, the website’s developers have shot themselves and their business in the foot as veteran users have already said good-bye that site.)

Following the Google Maps fiasco of late, which I have not mentioned yet, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  For Google is no exception to the list of websites that do nothing but to introduce new format after new format that creates more work for the user.  Flickr, which is a part of the Yahoo! network, would be another example of this in how its copycat new format makes it unweildly and how its “infinity scrolling” script disallows a quick, easy delimitation of search results per page--the delimitation being something which is necessary and superior if you want to keep your computer’s hardware resources free or want to walk away from and later resume a search over the course of minutes, hours, or a large number of search results.  Yet it is the issues of Google Maps and Yahoo! that most demonstrate website companies’ disdain for their customers.  Google knows perfectly well that its new Google Maps version--with predictably fewer features and an increased burden on computer resources--is hated and Yahoo! knows perfectly well that people hate the changes that they have made.  Yet these companies collectively do not care that they offend their customers in these ways: in effect, it’s that simple.

Google does not care that its new version of Google Maps is garbage, until people abandon them for their competition in sufficient numbers.  Nokia Maps, which is the backbone of Bing Maps, meanwhile apparently does not care that their attempts at providing the customer with more information results in the customer’s receiving less information: when state borders look just like roads and road details are obscured by 3-D building models on maps that are supposed to be simple, flat street maps, one is dealing with a map that is too clever by half.

Yet that is where the culture is today.  Both “The customer is always right” and “The customer is always the customer” have been replaced by “Follow all the latest trends in software and hardware design and shift the work burden from yourself to others, even if customers hate the results.”  In other words, the business world today couldn’t care less about whether their products are of high quality.***

And the quality of people’s writing nowadays: equally indicative of a lack of respect for second parties in the process of social interaction.  People lost the ability to type sentences that are coherent and understandable because they first lowered their IQ though serial misspellings and hyper-abbreviation in their texting, and in their comments in Internet comboxes, and so on.  They would never think to use such poor writing if they got to speak with a known dignitary or “hero” like “Pope Francis” or Barack Obama, but everyone else--including you and me--are just everyday, ordinary scum who do not deserve any effort when it comes to someone’s typing a message to them.  In retrospect, perhaps it was only a matter of time before the inability to spell gave way to the inability to speak.

Finally, and in keeping the title of this post in mind, remember that nowhere above have I said anything about the usual topics or the most obvious matters in discussions of culture wars.  All told, there are a number of indications that the next fifty years in the U.S. will be interesting times--translation: dangerous, unstable times.

* Know that both of these are words, along with “idiot,” are outdated terms from psychology that speak to the level of cognitive functions that a person has.
** Then again, take my statement with a grain of salt.  I know firsthand that even QC departments are capable of letting things slip through the cracks and of bypassing one firewall after another.
*** Actually, it is probably the higher echelons of the business world--those at the top of corporate and leadership hierarchy--who are most responsible for stupid, customer-alienating changes to designs and software.  People in ivory towers or what-not often lack an important knowledge of what is going on in the real world or in most people’s lives and experiences; they possess financial knowledge, but not all the practical knowledge that is needed to successfully micromanage possible changes to software design.


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