On Going “Amish”

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This is not clip art. I took it while on vacation.

The past several weeks have included several major upgrades to technology. Those upgrades have created a special combination of excitement and frustration. Coincidentally, this is the time of year for vacation planning. Vacation planning generally includes more excitement than frustration and means looking forward to visiting a part of the country where Amish folks live.

Perhaps that combination has led me to consider whether or not it’s time to “go Amish.” Let me hasten to make it clear that I mean no disrespect. The Amish are a people I greatly admire spiritually and socially. I also do not intend to join the ranks who identify the Amish with a lack of progress and backwards view. They are truly anything but that.

Occasionally, however, it makes sense to consider just how much they gain by adopting technology slowly. While my long view suggests that this technology means I will be able to work much more efficiently eventually, the last few weeks have found me a bit more focused on the frustrations that accompany adopting new technology. Some of the issues I’ve faced have been enough to make me consider “going Amish” — at least from the standpoint of being very hesitant to adopt technology without first considering the impacts of doing so.

One of the frustrations is the lack of solid, objective information. That may seem odd given that we’ve been living in an “information age” for at least several decades. However, the age is defined by quantity of information and not quality of information. My occasional use of Facebook serves as a constant reminder of that reality. I admitted to someone just recently that there are people I’ve actually come to “like less” because of their Facebook postings. Facebook is at least a shining example of the need for us all to learn some “information management” skills.

Some companies get pretty good at that, at least when it comes to PR (public relations) and product marketing. I cut my technological teeth on Microsoft and Windows and, while I’ve not always been thrilled with them I have remained fairly loyal–even when I started working in the academic environment where Apple has traditionally been king. Part of it is, admittedly, not wanting to suffer through the learning curve required with adopting a new platform. The learning curve is bad enough when upgrading within Microsoft.

Let me offer some examples without, hopefully, making your eyes glaze over. If you’re considering purchasing new technology or upgrading your software this might actually be helpful information.

This latest change was particularly challenging because there were a number of “if/then” types of decisions. “If I’m going to upgrade to Microsoft Office 2013 on my primary computer, does that then mean I should upgrade to Windows 8 or Windows 8.1?” I offer this as an example–everyone’s situation is obviously going to be a bit different. Because I was considering some additional hardware part of my consideration was consistency and compatibility.

The suppliers do not make this an easy analysis. I had “analysis paralysis” for more than a week or two. There was also this “buy or lease” question lurking in the background. It’s no secret that more and more software companies are moving in the direction of leasing–whether they identify it as such or not. Intuit, the makers of Quicken Financial software, have become recognized as one of the pioneers. They are effectively forcing “upgrades” every three or four years by announcing that the older version will no longer be supported. “If you want to continue to use the online features, you’ll need to upgrade.” When you buy Quicken, they aren’t going to tell you that you are effectively just buying the right to use it for three or four years. They also aren’t going to tell you that the upgrade you are forced to buy is anything but. They change some colors and make it look different, maybe offer some obtuse features that the average user could care less about. In the latest version, they’ve actually mucked things up. From personal experience as a victim, I can attest to the fact it runs considerably slower than the “old” version. But the good news for Intuit is they have created a guaranteed revenue stream.

Microsoft has caught this vision and now has so many options for purchasing or leasing their Office Suite I’m not sure anyone really understands them all. So these decisions follow the tendency towards generalizations and over simplification. It reduces stress in the short term, but may increase frustration in the long term.

I won’t list everything I’ve done, but I did buy the allure of upgrading to Microsoft Office 2013. Part of that allure was the ability to run two machines “synchronously.” In purchasing the allure, I failed to do the one thing I have learned to do when I’m receiving information. In my mind I know it’s imperative to ask this question: What am I not being told? (You learn this really fast when working with kids–they seem to instinctively know how to present information in a way that makes them look good. When he comes running up on the playground and announces, “Sally kicked me!” you can bet something is being left out.

So, in a long and roundabout way, let me tell you two important things you aren’t going to be told about Microsoft Office 2013. Consider it a public service announcement. If you’re one of those people who hates Microsoft, consider it an indictment.

  1. Microsoft has removed all clip art from Office 2013. When you head up to the ribbon to illustrate your document, the insert function does not include clip art. That’s a pretty big omission for those of use who like to illustrate. I’ve yet to find anything in the Microsoft propaganda that discloses this.
  2. The “access to your data anywhere” is very relative and–after a lot of research–excludes Outlook data (email, contacts, calendar) which was, for me, a major reason for the purchase. There are many ways to share document files without Microsoft Office. The piece that’s been missing forever is the ability for a user to run Outlook on two computers and keep everything synchronized. Shame on Microsoft for at least implying that’s no longer a problem.

No, I haven’t thrown in the towel and decided to start looking for my horse and buggy. In fact, I’m not even rolling back to previous technology. But I have been reminded of the importance of missing information when considering a course of action. And since it’s never really possible to be fully informed, I’ve been reminded of the need to see ourselves as the ultimate solution to our problems and needs. The tools are not the answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think the best vacation is the one that relieves me of my own life for a while and then makes me long for it again. – Ann Patchett

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