Remember that satisfying “pop” when your TV switched on in an instant? Back in the days when TVs still used tubes.
These days we have flat screens and they are, in most respects, great. I now get to watch ‘Supersized Earth’ on BBC, or the latest episode of ‘Walking Dead’, on my (modest) 46 inch screen. Back in my student days I had a little 15 inch Brionvega. TVs are just better when they are supersized. The old picture tube is, of course, long dead.
But for the life of me, why does it take so long to switch them on now? Oversized TVs are full of underperforming chips that significantly detract from the user experience. My flat screen doesn’t turn on with a ‘pop’ anymore. What happens is more like this:
- Hit button
- Wait a few seconds – nothing happens
- Sony logo appears on screen for another few seconds
- Screen goes blank for about 10 seconds
- Image appears, but no sound
- Another 8-10 seconds and the sounds appears too
- I hit ‘guide’ to select a channel, takes another few seconds to load
- Choose a channel and it takes a couple of seconds for the tuner to actually switch channels
- Not the right channel? Repeat 7-8
Most definitely a first world problem, but all the levels of functionality we are adding to our world also end up being a kind of filter to the world. Few things in the tech world are ‘immediate’.
We boot and wait. We press and wait. In the case of the TV the seconds of delay between my action and the result of that action makes me feel a bit more disconnected from the TV. In the morning, when my 5-year old requires cartoons and daddy hasn’t had his coffee yet, things are a bit worse than that. She also has a set top box that needs to boot along with the TV. And the TV needs to be told to show what that box is broadcasting. So putting on ‘Mickey Mouse Clubhouse’ can involve numerous button presses and hours (it feels like it) of watching load wheels spin – before finally being able to move on to making that espresso.
The long path to information retrieval
Worse, though, are the layers being added to the retrieval of more crucial information. Up until recently in Denmark, if the tax man or the bank or the municipality or some other public office needed to get in touch they would post a letter. A man would bring this letter to your door. With you finger you would open it – and then read it. A simple interface.
These days I get an email saying that there is a message for me. In this email there is no link to the message – nor to where I need to go to find this message. I need to open a browser and manually type in the URL of the service that holds these messages. But that’s only the beginning.
Presuming I am lucky and don’t need to first update to the latest version of Java this time, remembering to deselect the installation of the pestering Ask toolbar, I now need to click login and enter my account name and password. To finalize the login, I need to go retrieve my wallet which is where I keep the so called “key card” that we use here in Denmark to log in to most public services. I find a number on the card, key in another number next to that and click “log in”.
Next I need to click again – accepting that my social security number is shared amongst services. This is something I have to do every single time I log in. Next, I need to find my mailbox and click a few more times before finally identifying my new message and opening it.
Pheeew. Compare that to getting an envelope with a piece of paper in it and opening it with your right index finger.
And that is just for communication sent to me personally. For communication to my business there is another procedure all together and for this I need a digital signature that I have only had installed on my work computer. So if I am not at the office, I can’t access the communication at all. I can possibly copy and install the signature on my other computers too, but I couldn’t easily find any information about it – and I’ve been too busy anyway, managing all my other logins and accounts and figuring out how other clunky interfaces work.
I consider the internet the most important invention in my lifetime which is why I choose to work with it. But we are seriously cluttering the interface with our own world through continuously adding layers of complexity to it and utilizing underperforming systems in our technology.
Unfortunately, the public sector thinks primarily in ease-of-use for the sender (no more sending envelopes) and have little incentive to respond to end-user frustrations. TV producers, it seems, are primarily concerned with adding completely unnecessary, but marketable, features such as 3D and 4K.
Organizations in the digital age need to think usability first. Stripping layers and getting back to the “pop” of the picture tube is the road to success for all enterprises.