Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Modern Technology: Please stop trying to be helpful

A minute ago, I tried reading an article on a super-popular news site. The page it opened had no scrollbar, and as with all modern ‘writing’, the top 800 pixels is a large image, rather than any text. Luckily, my laptop has a touch screen but….no joy. I still can’t scroll. I just assume that this is some stupid clash with ghostery, so turn it off. The site still cannot scroll. I’m sure the content must exist, I just am not technically able to access it.

I’m not an idiot, I used to be an MCSE qualified systems engineer. And yet in 2022, I cannot scroll a web page.

The problem, as I’m sure you have guessed, is some sort of stupid bug in what passes for web development code these days, where the scroll bar is handled by the page, not the browser, and it has decided, given various parameters, that it should hide the scrollbar from me, when in fact it is totally and utterly fucking wrong.

I am unsure as to precisely what this is trying to achieve. Back in the 1990s, web browsers just added vertical or horizontal scroll bars when they were needed, and we all got on with our lives. Apparently, in 2022, there is mass hysteria at the thought that I MIGHT see a scrollbar when I do not really immediately need it, and this would be a mortal threat to me. The sight of a scrollbar at any point in my life other than one nanosecond before I intend to use it, is apparently a fate worse than death.

GMail, before I gave up on its frankly appalling spam filter, used to pull the same trick on me. I have a lot of email folders, and this requires a scrollbar, which apparently would give me cancer if I saw it before I went ‘hunt the scrollbar’ with my mouse in its general direction.

I get it. Some graphic designer, who probably got into a lot of debt to get that degree, thinks that a scroll bar breaks the ‘clean simple’ look of their art / web page, and that my life would be simpler if I could never see it. Apparently it compromises the artistic vision of the designer if the web page includes any actual functionality.

Sadly, its not just functionality, but content that is actually offensive to these people. The layout of a web page is apparently an exhibit at the Guggenheim museum, not actual information that anybody would wish to consume. All news articles must contain a massive stock photo of some vaguely related phenomena with a proud GETTY logo in the corner, lest we confuse it with anything actually relevant. After scrolling past this waste of time, we are lucky if 50% of the available space contains any text, and thats even after ghostery has blocked all the ads, and after we ignore the ‘sponsored’ content.

Once you scroll past (tech permitting) the stock photos, the ads, and the sponsored concept, you are left with an amazing display of unfettered white-space. Acres and acres of plain white background. This is apparently clean. This is apparently simple. This is actually ridiculous. Apple removing the headphone jack was just the white-space/scrollbar trend in real life. Remove everything. Pad everything. Everything you buy must be a multi-layered unboxing ‘experience’ designed for Instagram, not common sense.

Just like the curse-of-white-space and the banishment of scrollbars, I find almost all modern tech trends designed to help me, actually hinder me. The chief example is of course the dreaded social media ‘algorithm’. I am yet to find a single tech site or service where I prefer their algorithm over a simple search/browse/directory structure. The worst possible offender has to be youtube.

Youtube’s algorithm is like a hyperactive puppy on amphetamines. You dared watch a video of someone playing a van halen song? Well OMG DO WE HAVE THE VIDEOS FOR YOU. Expect 50% of your suggested videos to be variations on that theme. If you dare watch another one, the puppy will get even more excited. WATCH MORE OF THE THING!!! it shrieks at the top of its voice into your eardrums. Meanwhile, a second puppy constantly pimps already-stupidly-popular but absolutely unsuitable videos that you have never shown any interest in, while a third puppy keeps suggesting you re-watch a video you literally watched an hour ago.

Streaming services are no better. Netflix is so in thrall with its algorithm that it actively lies. ‘Popular today’ means fuck-all. It means ‘stuff the algorithm thinks you want…which is popular today’. At one point I had to create a completely new Netflix profile called ‘not korean’ to escape its dumb-as-fuck constant pimping of NOTHING but Korean dramas to me. Amazon prime is even worse, actively promoting the latest football matches to me whenever there is some tedious football event. I have been an Amazon customer since the month the site launched. I have never, ever, in all these years, ever watched/streamed/bought/rented anything even tangentially related to any sport, ever. I assume there is a ‘sport’ section, which I could presumably find, if I suddenly change after 50 years.

Stop trying to help me. You are rubbish at it. If I go into a book store, back in the real world, (the one that is not infuriating), I see a ton of shelves, nicely labeled, showing me all the content on offer. Amazingly, my primitive brain enables me to browse, to decide what to show an interest in, what to look at, where to go. This works. Its worked for hundreds of years now. Its fine. But… imagine a bookshop where there were no shelves, no departments, no books, just a fucking annoying sales assistant holding up a ton of books that were the same as the last book you bought, yelling BUY THESE! THESE ARE WHAT YOU WANT!

I yearn for simpler times, not because I’m a technophobe, I’m a fucking computer programmer, but because I despise seeing so much effort go into efforts to actively make my life worse in so many tiny ways. If the text doesn’t fit in the box, show a fucking scrollbar. Not only when your machine-learning bullshit thinks I need it, but ALWAYS. If I have something that is laughably called a ‘timeline’ in your social media app, then ONLY EVER show it by time.

In a line.

Its not much to ask.

8 thoughts on Modern Technology: Please stop trying to be helpful

  1. I hate it when web designers feel like they have to break how the Internet works in order to build a website. On the website for a company I used to work, for the designers messed with scrolling as well. Instead of using the built in browser scrolling they did their own soft scrolling garbage (or probably downloaded some plug-in for whatever analytics/tracking/authoring platform they were using) which would do weird things, much like what Cliff mentioned. Every element in the page had 30+ event handlers hooked up to it so it could do “cool stuff”. Ugh.
    Web sites don’t need all that junk. You can make great websites these days with the features that vanilla HTML, JS, and CSS provide. When I resurrected my personal blog recently I only used simple, mostly hand-rolled HTML, CSS, and a little bit of JS. I even put a comment in the HTML about it being hand crafted, artisanal HTML. I wonder if anyone has found that comment yet…

  2. Oh, your bookstore would only be a sales-twerp holding up suggested titles a few times. Just in case you got used to that, the next time you went it would be a whole new “experience”, carefully built to excite and enthrall the sort of customer they are sure you must be! Maybe you will be presented with a series of enigmatic tables, that when you approach, cleverly holographically erupt into some .. things, things you can further interact with to discover More Things, and from this, the AI will infer what’s really the Best Thing for You Today. Isn’t that a thrill? Only don’t get used to THAT, my friend! Next time using Smart Surfaces, everything in the store will be exactly the same hue, but get this, it will all constantly change in perfect synchrony! The only way to find what’s in a book is to look inside! But wait! All the books are really audio books now, so no more flipping through. And so on and so on..

    If you just came to buy a book you had in mind, or worse yet, browse, you missed the whole point. The bookstore has become a performance art piece, because, reasons!

  3. My god and your comment box actually works? How is this still on the internet? I thought i would have to sign into fb with 2factor just to leave a comment! Eitherway scrollbars are a thing of the past they want access to you eyeballs so they can auto scroll when you look down or up.

    Suggestions arent even there to help you. They exist to run you off the road into a ditch of advertisements.

  4. Removing smartphones from existence would solve so many problems. Back to flip phones, no apps, just pictures/video, texting and actual phone things. Wanna share to a social media? Sure! But there’s no web browser or app store, so be sure you publish exactly what you want before pressing the send button.

  5. Most of the modern day technology that is made to make our life better isn’t helping and hindering with our daily experiences. Websites don’t focus on the content but the design to make you spend more time on the webpage. Social media like youtube just supply content which they think I would like but it’s not what happens. The modern day algorithm and designs are build to make us use the service more rather than get the content we want.

  6. I absolutely despise being expected to ‘discover’ UI controls, as though everything has to be an escape room. Or window title bars that used to be handy for moving windows around that are now so booby trapped with context-sensitive controls that you can’t touch the things without aiming so very carefully. And that non-linear abomination, the ‘ribbon’. Anyway, there’s that.

  7. 1. Install uBlock instead of Ghostery
    2. Install Stremio instead of Netflix
    3. All those behaviors are on purpose, it’s not the incompetence of the designers or engineers behind them. They exist so that you keep watching what they want you to watch, and buying what they want you to buy. The twitter timeline is in a random order because a team of psychologists kept running rat experiments on how addiction is built and decided that this particular arrangement maximizes the addictive potential. If you want to escape that, stop using Twitter, give it to some marketing intern, and switch to Mastodon, or better yet, nothing.

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