(First published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail, March 21.)
Readers may be familiar with the expression “to go down a rabbit hole”.It has its origins in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In the story, Alice follows the White Rabbit down such a hole and finds herself in a topsy-turvy world where nothing makes any sense.
To go down a rabbit hole, then, is to enter a parallel universe that challenges your concept of reality and may even cause you to begin doubting your sanity.I didn’t fully understand the meaning of the term until I recently disappeared down a rabbit hole myself - several, in fact, in rapid succession.
My rabbit-hole experiences came courtesy of one of the biggest and most powerful companies in the history of capitalism. How Microsoft attained that status, despite reducing users of its Windows operating systems to a state of impotent rage and despair, is one of the profound mysteries of our time.All I wanted to do was transfer email addresses from my desktop computer at home into the laptop that I was taking overseas. I assumed all it would take was a few key-strokes – perhaps a routine copy-and-paste operation.
Ha! More fool me. Never assume anything with Microsoft, whose operating systems are created by geeks who are clearly incapable of placing themselves in the position of everyday users. I lost several hours of my life, and disappeared down a succession of rabbit holes, trying to accomplish this elementary task.At one point I searched on Google for a clear, step-by-step guide and let out a little whoop of triumph when I found a site that assured me it was all quite simple and straightforward.
More fool me again. That only led me down another rabbit hole. The explanation was written in techno-speak – in other words, by a geek for fellow geeks – and assumed a level of computer knowledge that was beyond me. Such is invariably the case.Besides, the computer screen depicted on this purportedly simple guide bore no resemblance to the one on my laptop, although it supposedly related to the same version of the Windows Outlook programme as the one I was running. So I fell at the first hurdle.
In the end I turned for help to two people – one an IT professional – whom I regard as being highly computer-savvy. Both sighed sympathetically and admitted that copying email addresses from one Windows-powered device into another, while theoretically it should be a simple, everyday exercise, was beyond them.Both went further and confessed that they routinely experienced exactly the same frustration and despair as I did when trying to make sense of Microsoft’s perverse operating system.
It struck me forcibly that if even computer-literate types can be constantly thwarted by Windows, there must be millions of users silently enduring the same helpless fury. And not for the first time I wondered how arguably the least user-friendly product in the history of civilisation could have attained such overwhelming market dominance.On the face of things, it’s an abject failure of the capitalist model. Where are the hungry competitors that, according to market theory, should be piling in to exploit customer dissatisfaction with Microsoft?
And please don’t mention Apple. I know there are Apple users who are evangelically loyal to the brand, but I’m also aware of many Apple product owners who curse their machines with the same passion as I curse Windows.In the end I painstakingly typed all my most important email addresses into my laptop, but my problems didn’t end there. I still had to work out how to navigate a Windows Outlook programme on my laptop that, although ostensibly the same version as the one on my computer at home, looks and functions quite differently.
That’s another thing I hate about Windows. On the rare occasions when I’ve got it functioning to my satisfaction, I can count on Microsoft unilaterally changing things so that I waste more precious hours of my life, and disappear down yet more rabbit holes, trying to make it work – and trying to decipher the nonsensical, infantile terminology Windows users are expected to familiarise themselves with.Such was the case when Windows 10 was installed in my home computer despite my having clearly indicated I didn’t want it. The fait accompli appears to be a crucial part of Microsoft’s business model.
What I require from my computers is simple. I need to create documents, send and receive emails and attachments, conduct online searches, make bookings, do online banking and occasionally buy stuff. I teach myself how to do what I need to do and most of the time I get by.But every so often Microsoft throws me a curve ball and after wasting several hours trying to make sense of whatever they’ve inflicted on me, I almost lose the will to live.
In my imagination, there’s a very dark place in Hell for Bill Gates, who started all this, and not even the billions he spends on philanthropy – presumably in atonement for the misery he has inflicted on people like me – will spare him from it.
FOOTNOTE: Predictably, this column triggered a barrage of comments on Stuff from people sneering at my inadequacies and boasting how easy it was to do what I failed to do. I felt strangely uplifted by this, and perversely proud that my failings as a computer user serve as a point of difference from these tedious, subterranean-dwelling tech-heads.