Mad As Hell! Not Going to Take It Anymore! [UPDATED]

August 31, 2010 at 1:36 am (Guest Post)

Guest rant by Jean S. Gottlieb

Much of our lives seem to be consecrated to making simple things complicated without the benefit of making complicated things simpler. Why is it so hard to get basic information, like a telephone number now that phone books have become endangered species? Computers were designed by people who like intricacy of the Dungeons and Dragons kind of thing, so they don’t “think” in a simplifying streamlining kind of way–at least not for the likes of me. I hate what has happened to the home page on the computer. Full of jumping ads and “information” I neither want nor am interested in. I hate what has happened to television which has been poisoned by the computer bug–all commercials and maybe 10 minutes of programming–I’m speaking of news broadcasts. All channels do the same stories at the same point in their broadcast; all synchronize their commercials to minimize viewers’ opportunity to get news on channel A while channel B is trying to sell you a car or some medication that they warn you to check with your doctor about because it can have ominous side effects.

I guess I am just in a ranting mood, but even simple things, so-called, like ordering tickets, airline, theatre, whatever, has become a humiliation, as has airline travel. What happened to the notion that service was what some of these bozos were supposed to be offering us? Why, with  the the marvel of the computer to handle great gobs of data so that our records will be orderly, intelligible, and simplified, are medical records, for instance, often a muddle? Why does the doctor have you fill out the same form with the same (dumb) questions every time he sees you? Why doesn’t Dr. A. EVER seem to ask Dr. B. what he has been prescribing for you, or why is it sometimes the alert pharmacist who says, “You better not take both these medicines, they react badly on each other”? With all his record keeping the Dr. seems not to know something as important as conflicting medications that are both supposedly listed in your records!

I AM crabby tonight. Dad whupped me again at scrabble . . .

[reprinted with permission from an e-mail to amba]

Jean adds in response to comments:

What comes to mind as a further insult to the senses and the intelligence (?) of consumers is the totally distracting and unnecessary number of varieties even something as basic as TOOTHPASTE comes in: whitening, whitening with cavity preventer, gel or paste, extra scrub power, I can’t even begin to name the huge, unnecessary number of kinds of just that one item.

As for the respondent who says he prefers online shopping, I understand and sympathize. Retail has lost its lustre as a location where knowledge, charm personality, intuitiveness, whatever, are prized–or even exist. That’s a fault of employers who won’t or can’t train people to see the work as dignified. So selling a pair of shoelaces is like selling someone a winter coat (almost). What we gain is quick and easy and sanitized retail, no interpersonal relationship, no exchange, only snippy or bored “associates,” who are undifferentiated from the seller of hamburgers at McDonald’s.


  1. Crabby Old Lady said,

    Took the words right out of my mouth., Jean.

    Plus, all those program promos at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes they cover the entire bottom THIRD of the screen making it impossible to see what the actors are talking about. Recently, while an actor was speaking in another language with subtitles, the promo covered those.


  2. Courtney H. said,

    Hi, Jean,
    I agree with every single sentence in your post, including the one about Scrabble. And, yes, my age is over sixty. Time to revolt!

  3. Ron said,

    I look at it this way: Older, simpler things were simpler because we didn’t ask all that much of them. Righty or wrongly, we want more and more flexibility and detail handling from systems when we probably be better off just accepting a simple, clean tool. Even things like ticket handling we want options on top of options. We kinda have this wish/dream that computers will magically solve all this stuff….they won’t, but, hey, we shouldn’t blame them! Fussbudgets who prefer baroque, obscurantist solutions are now empowered by technologies that they would not have gotten within a mile of before. People still treat computers as a magic box, when they should think of them more like a screwdriver.

    As an aside, I was a “Gamemaster” (sigh) for D&D and similar games for many years. I was constantly pushed by my players into writing reams of material, which I steadfastly refused to do. No one could believe that I would spin years of stories out of a handful of phrases I would write on 3 by 5 cards. Eventually my players wrote over a 1000 pages of stuff, which they would call “my” story. A heady feeling when you feel you can trick Tom Sawyer into painting Hoover Dam!

    Now….look at all the people in your life who are enthralled by the idea of having such power, even over the simplest things….frightening, isn’t it?

    I used to tell my fellow computer programmers the ideal user interface was a doorknob. See how far this view is the commonplace for computers? Ahem….

  4. PatHMV said,

    Not to rain on an excellent rant, but… ;-)

    We can still have the convenience of calling a travel agent to order tickets and take care of all the little pesky details… but now we have to pay separately for that privilege, rather than it being included in the cost of the plane ticket. Personally, I like the level of control and detail purchasing tickets and such on-line give me.I HATE shopping in person, largely because clerks today are not professionals, as retail salespeople once were, I tend to find that I know far more about the products on offer than they do. And I don’t have to explain WHY I want this or that option, or worry that the order-taker will look at me funny for choosing some unusual option; I just fill out the on-line form exactly to my specifications and the product shows up at my door in a few days, or (with flying) I can print out my own boarding pass and skip all lines at the airport other than security and the boarding itself.

    And on the computer front, we need to get somebody to help clear her screen of the junk! Make Google your mom’s home screen. I agree that all that junk on the screen is mostly useless, but it is possible to customize it, if there’s any junk that you want to see on a regular basis.

    Phone numbers? There’s no real good replacement for the yellow pages yet, to my mind, but for the white pages, give me the computer any day. If I put somebody’s name and city in Google, their number and address come up at the top of the listings about 8 times out of 10. And there’s always, which has both business and personal white pages. Doesn’t always work, because some folks still have unlisted numbers or because they only have a cell phone now, but there’s really very few people I fail to find, quickly, on that service.

    But I agree completely with every word of the rant about TV! I once thought about conducting a study to try to prove that the networks were colluding (a big anti-trust no-no) to schedule commercials at the same time, to reduce people from switching channels during the ads.

    Oh, and medical records? I used to be big on the idea of electronic medical records, to solve exactly the problem Jean describes. But lately I’m very sour on them. To really work, they’ve got to be comprehensive… and that poses massive real privacy dangers. One of my dear friends has epilepsy. It’s almost completely controlled by medicine. She’s never had a car accident as a result of a seizure. But because of draconian and misguided state laws, if the state knew she had epilepsy, she wouldn’t be given a driver’s license. And there are laws on the books REQUIRING doctors to report to the DMV if there patient has a seizure disorder. As a result, my friend often chooses not to see her doctor after having an episode (which only happens once a year or so, these days), to avoid putting him in a difficult spot and to avoid having an entry of the episode made in her medical records.

    I’ve already seen with the so-called privacy protection HIPPAA law that while it does a great job of inconveniencing you so that the pharmacy can guarantee that the next guy in line can’t possibly hear what medication you are getting, it does a lousy job (no job at all, really) of protecting the government or your employer from finding out what your medical issues are… because it allows both of them to condition benefits, insurance, or even continued employment on your agreeing to disclose to them your medical information. Without a law that says that your medical records cannot be disclosed to anybody, even with your supposed permission, to any government agency or private business, other than the health care professionals providing you care and the insurance company paying for it, then forcing all of us to have a centralized medical record is just begging for massive invasions of our daily privacy.

    And frankly, I think that any medical records database should recognize a patient’s absolute right to delete ANY information about them contained in that database, for any reason. Yes, we could learn a lot, medically, by scouring these databases to see if there are any long-term consequences of every bout of college chlamydia or crabs or whatever, but can you imagine that being on your permanent medical record that you can’t get rid of for the rest of your life? Not just on a couple of pieces of paper filed away at the college health clinic, but stuck with you for your entire life? I’d much rather bring my own paper records with me every time I go to the doctor.

  5. amba12 said,

    On retail: it’s all about economies of scale, boosting profits by slashing expenses. People are expensive, especially educated, trained people. So as much so-called “service” as possible is provided by machines, and the rest by the equivalent of call-center employees, minimum-wage time slaves working from simple scripts, AND as few of those as possible. Try to get help finding something in Walmart — try to even find an employee! And if you do, they won’t know any better than you do where to find what you’re looking for, or anything about it. They’re unglorified stock clerks.

  6. realpc said,

    As you try to make things better and easier and more convenient, they inevitably become more complicated and confusing. I don’t think anyone wants to over-complicate; complexity just happens. The goal in information technology really is to keep everything as simple as possible, but as simple as possible is usually over-whelmingly complex.

    I agree about retail shopping though. I often feel like giving young cashiers a lecture about politeness and consideration. Yesterday I had to wait 10 minutes on line while cashiers flirted and gossiped, and they didn’t care at all that my ice cream was melting.

  7. PatHMV said,

    I once walked into an old department store, at a location in my city which would close within the following year or so. I was looking to buy a dress shirt. I was helped by a salesman who was probably 70 years old, maybe more, who had clearly worked at this store for a very long time. He introduced himself to me, announced my measurements (no tape needed, and he was spot on), and asked me what type of shirt I was looking for.

    He was exceedingly helpful, and he guided me to precisely where in the displays the specific shirt I needed would be… if they had any in stock. But they were out of stock, and so I bought nothing. I would have dearly loved to purchase 3 or 4 shirts from him, and that that could have been a model for consumer retail transactions, but of course it was in fact something of a last gasp of a dying art.

    As Annie notes, it’s about the economies of scale. A traditional department store can only house so much, so many styles, so many different sizes, in its inventory. Online stores will always be able to more affordably offer a wider selection of sizes, colors, and styles. Maintaining a large inventory is VERY expensive. Combine that with the higher costs of hiring better retail sales clerks, and you get the modern big-box and mall department stores, with Amazon, Zappos, and other online retailers looking better and better every day.

  8. PatHMV said,

    Oh, but I’m with you 100% on the toothpaste! It’s ridiculous. And they keep changing product offerings every couple of years. I’ve been brushing with Crest my whole life, but it’s like every time I go to the store, I have to pick some different type of Crest that they didn’t make the last time I bought some.

  9. Ron said,

    If they ever get close to a kind of Disneyesque animatronic robot that even comes vaguely close to a real person in a store… won’t even have those stock clerk types anymore.

    I still think that, for a lot of companies, the ideal employee headcount is …..0. And we all strive for our ideals, don’t we?

  10. david said,

    C’mon, Ma, you sound like a cranky old lady.

    Oh… wait…

  11. wj said,

    Two things:
    On the subject of vast numbers of varieties of each item in the store. I recently (just this week, I think) saw an article explaining why Trader Joe’s was doing so well. Other stores have dozens of varieties of every item they sell. TJ’s has 2-3. As a result, their stock turns over faster (which means that stuff that goes stale tends not to) and their volume for any particular item is higher. Which gets them volume discounts from their suppliers. Even splitting part of the discount with the customers, that makes their store more profitable than the norm for grocery stores. And gets rid of having to hunt thru umpteen different kinds of essentially the same product.

    As for synchronized commercials, I always thought the purpose of commercials was to allow me to walk away from the TV without missing anything. I recall a Johnny Carson line (yes, that long ago!) to the effect that (approximately) “the earth might wobble on its axis due to all the people heading to the refrigerator during the commercials. Except that half of them would be going the other way [i.e. to the bathroom].” Either way, having all of the channels in sync with their commericals seems like a relatively minor problem.

    However, I must agree that the commercials (or, in the ones I see, blurbs for other shows) that run across the bottom of the screen are a real pain. There must be an opportunity there for some clever person to invent a device which will suppress them….

  12. Donna B. said,

    Superb rant! I agree with it and all the comments above.

    I’m sure that sounds contradictory, but it’s really not. Some things bother me more than others… and I’m willing to make some trade-offs.

    Electronic medical records — I have found that it’s easier to correct information in the electronic records. Paper records might include a statement about an error, but it’s not going to be seen by anyone and the paper records can follow you around just as easily as the electronic ones.

    TV – I just don’t watch it much, especially the news shows. My husband watches quite a bit, so I hear it and can easily step into the room if something catches my attention. That seldom happens! I get enough of the current popular shows when I visit my children to remind me why I don’t watch them regularly.

    Retail, shopping — I’ve pretty much always hated shopping. One of the reasons was overbearing snobby clerks hovering over me. Muzak is another reason. My daughters generally drag me on a shopping trip once or twice a year. Occasionally I have to buy groceries or household supplies, but my husband generally handles that now. He enjoys the activity, though he’s a bit impulsive. That costs us more, but not as much as the psychiatric copays if I had to do it all.

    Travel – we drive now. Last flight for me was in early 2008 and for my husband, late 2006. It’s simply not worth the hassle.

  13. Icepick said,

    Why does the doctor have you fill out the same form with the same (dumb) questions every time he sees you?

    I asked one of my mother’s doctors’ staff about that once. Apparently that is (partially) a requirement of Medicare. And once Medicare starts doing something every other health insurer starts doing the same thing. I gather the rest of it is ass covering so the lawyers don’t fuck the doctors even more than they already do.

    As for TV – GET A DVR! They’re easier to use (by a lot) than VCRs, and you can fast forward through commercials. You still can’t escape all the crap they put on the screen during the shows but skipping the commercials makes life more palatable. And don’t watch the news, get it online. Anything to put the TV news “personalities” out of business.

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