digital havenots

I’ve been using the latest Mac OS (Ventura) for a couple of weeks now, mostly with regret, bitterness, and frustration. Safari became very annoying — to the point where I was forced to use Chrome for some work-related sites (fingers crossed the 13.0.1 update improves things). And I hate using Chrome.

Obviously, the new System Settings is horrible, and new features in Mail are neither here nor there, because who gives a damn about email. One wrinkle this week was that I couldn’t print at work for several days, and this and other minor frustrations added up to a general thumbs-down to Ventura.

As to Stage Manager, which is Apple’s latest (of many) attempts to do something to shift the computing paradigm and make multitasking on the Mac “easier”, it doesn’t enhance anything for me. I’m not saying it wouldn’t work for someone who is completely new to the Mac, but it seems harder, less intuitive, and clunkier than the ways I’ve been using the system for decades now. And it eats into your small laptop screen space really intrusively. There are better ways. Switching between applications, for example, is straightforwardly achieved with a simple ⌘-Tab, whereas switching between open windows is ⌘-~ (tilde). Anything Apple has added to the system over the years to manage multiple apps/windows has been completely superfluous to requirements if you know those two basic moves.

But then features like Stage Manager aren’t aimed at the likes of me. They’re aimed at hypothetical new Mac users who have come to the Mac because they enjoy using an iPhone or an iPad. They’re designed to create paradigms that work across these platforms. But I’m sceptical. First of all, I doubt many of these hypothetical users exist; second of all, these features just don’t work very well.

For example, in Stage Manager, the default position is that the apps you’re not immediately using are shrunk down to thumbnails. But, say you want to drag a file from a Finder window to a browser window. You want both windows in your work space, and you have to fiddle around with Stage Manager to make that happen. And it’s not necessarily that obvious to someone who wasn’t born and bred in the briar patch of Mac drag-and-drop.

There has always been this problem/phenomenon with computers and software that 90% of users only need/use 10% of the features. Over my years in education I have seen this first hand, as both colleagues and students alike seem completely at sea with more advanced features or basic shortcuts like those outlined above. Watching people try to achieve something on a Windows PC is painful enough; but watching people use Macs ineptly is soul destroying. The shock of someone using a drop-down menu to copy and then paste is something you never get over. And when I tell my students to change their margins or line spacing before submitting work, well. Ha!

As computers get more and more ubiquitous, the designers of software have to cater for more and more users who haven’t got a clue. And the more this general ignorance is pandered to, the more it grows, tiddly-pom. Forty years of ICT education in schools seems to have done nothing to improve the experience of huge numbers of people. They still don’t know how to change line spacing or edit a template. And the fact is that even the most basic smartphone is completely beyond the ken of some people. I have in-laws in France, for example, who not only don’t have WiFi (and never will) but still drive several kilometres to the petrol station that lets them pay with a cheque. Trying to explain how to do things on an iPhone to these people is impossible. They’ll get the basics like tap-to-open, but the special swipe to switch between apps? Never in a million years.

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