A friend of mine from my summer at BusinessWeek recently moved to a new job at another magazine. They gave her a new email address and a new Blackberry to check her messages on. Which is nice of them. But she’s still got her old Treo (like a Blackberry but made by Palm) from her old job, and since she’s been using her Treo phone number as her main cell number, she’s still getting all these messages from former sources. She knows too many people to tell all her friends to start calling her on a new number, so she’s waiting for BusinessWeek to switch off the feed from her voicemail and email to the Treo, then she’ll just get used to having two cell phones.
The same is true for anyone who’s ever lost an academic email after graduating from school, college or university. A first-year here at Brown recently told me she’s lost touch with many of her old friends because she only had their contact information stored on her school email. I had the same experience when my Oxford address expired in July and I’m already worried about all the data collected in my Brown inbox, and all the people who only know to contact me there. Right now, I’m manning a separate Google address to try and shift my social life in advance of graduating this spring, and the business of checking two addresses (plus my Facebook) is driving me up a wall.
The lesson is that the Internet sometimes results in too much information collected in too many places for us to handle. But it also runs the opposite risk: information on computers isn’t secure, and technology doesn’t always work.
This Thursday, for example, I was writing a French paper—in French—and I needed to run it through the French equivalent of Spell Check, a program called Antidote . Now, it’s $300 to buy the program so Brown keeps a version on all the computers in our college computer labs. I usually just take my books there and write the paper in the lab so I can check as I go. On Thursday afternoon, I’d been writing all day and I was almost done, when the idiot sitting next to me decided to unplug the power cord to the whole computer cluster, permanently erasing my paper.
I’m not technologically illiterate and of course, I’d been saving as I went. But in a lab where hundreds of users come in each day and work on tons of documents, they set the computers to erase every document that’s been saved each time it restarts. I had to start over from scratch, and the paper I wrote in three hours that night was a whole lot worse than the one I’d slaved on for eight.
According to Stephen Baker , this is what made cell phones so successful: they could be made cheaply because they banked on people being happy to have something that worked most of the time, rather than wait around for engineers to make something perfect. Most people apparently like it that way; I’m not sure I agree? How come no one asked me if I was okay with this works-most-of-the-time model? And how willing are you guys to tolerate tech screw-ups and inconvenience?