Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Spotlight: "The Customer Is Always Right"

When I was younger, my family used to frequent a store called Stew Leonard's--"The World's Largest Dairy Store." A twisting labyrinth of produce and animatronic livestock, Stew's was, by far, the most fun place a kid could possibly hope to go grocery shopping. Engraved in a big stone at the entrance were the following two rules:

1. The customer is always right.
2. If the customer is ever wrong, re-read rule #1.

At the time, I assumed these rules to mean that, should the customer tell a Stew's employee to give him or her free ice cream, the employee should comply without delay. Were the employee to argue with the customer, he or she could simply point to rule #2 on the big stone, and shrug. Of course, I realize those rules weren't intended to be so grossly misinterpreted, but those rules were literally set in stone. No matter how you phrase it, the sentiment is the same: the customer always comes first.

A sentiment that Blogger, YouTube, Facebook, Pandora, and Microsoft all seem to have forgotten.

My displeasure with the current layout of all things electronic is a subject I've written about more than once, but no amount of griping is going to fix the situation. Whining about it might make me feel better, but it won't change Blogger's deceptively clunky new interface, and it won't make Facebook's Timeline go away. Given enough time, I'll learn how to deal with these alterations, and I may even grow to appreciate some of the new features...but I will not abide total complacency.

I may be just one customer in a crowd of billions, but I am a customer who is tired of being told, in one form or another, that he is wrong. Wrong not to embrace every change with open arms. Wrong to be content with anything that works just fine. You can please all the people some of the time, and you can please some people all of the time, but you can no longer please Nathaniel Hoover at any time, and that's what's truly wrong. After gradually warming up to The Next Big Thing in computers, telephones, cars, and video games for two or three decades--no matter how hideous, cumbersome, or impractical I may have found them to be--I've finally discovered an age of technology so far removed from my style that I am honest-to-goodness on the verge of disconnecting myself entirely from the modern era.

If you were to have asked me eight months ago what I wanted to improve about the websites, programs, and operating systems I frequently use, I would have given you a short list of minor suggestions. A tweak here; a modification there. If you were to ask me today what I wanted to improve, I'd have a laundry list of corrections to the appearance and functionality of virtually everything I use. This goes beyond simply being comfortable with the old ways and requiring time to adjust to the new ways; there has been an unmistakable shift in perceptions regarding what the customer wants and needs.

What I want and what I need out of my technology haven't changed. Let me write my posts, watch my videos, read my comments, listen to my music, and access my programs, tools, and documents as efficiently and effortlessly as possible. I am outraged not just because the new formats barely resemble the old ones I liked, but because the interfaces are now herding me toward using technology in a way that's inconsistent with the way I've always used it. I objected in school when I was forced to take notes in a way that wasn't helpful to me; I objected when the physical effort became a mandatory part of playing video games; I object now to the penetration of social media in all aspects of electronic culture, and to the insistence that every option needs to be neatly tucked away in a tab or sidebar so that the ugliness of convenience doesn't interfere with our appreciation of how clean and organized everything is.

I also object to the fact that the "New Blog" button is larger and more obvious to me than the "New Post" button.

I'm here to generate content, and to interact with people on my own terms. If you think you can make it easier for me, be my guest--but give me the option to turn you down. Give me the option to reorganize the interface to my liking. And don't involve me in your feud--now that Google+ is a competitor to Facebook, Blogger users are being punished for being affiliated with Google through Facebook's Open Graph Protocol, which demands careful reading and a certain degree of HTML skill to implement in Blogger--but which any WordPress user can blindly implement with a few button clicks thanks to a convenient plugin Facebook is providing to them and only to them. I'm not even on Google+ and my blog is suffering because neither Google nor Facebook is offering an obvious, simple solution that doesn't involve switching to WordPress.

The Pepsi company doesn't penalize me for eating at a restaurant that serves Coke products.

I have been frustrated, annoyed, and inconvenienced on a daily basis ever since these massive changes began, and no amount of "learning to deal with it" is going to fix the situation. I'm not demanding free ice cream here; I want my posts to actually get published on time like they did two weeks ago. I want to stop concocting my own workaround every time you break something. The amount of patience and effort required for me to maintain the old status quo is just as staggering as the amount of patience and effort required for me to adjust to the new status quo.

I'm not entirely happy with the new Pandora, but the basic interface still works well enough. Office 2010 and Windows 7 are required at work, but they have enough merit and customizability to be tolerable. As for everything else, it's no longer the services offered that are keeping me tethered to them--it's the people. I've got plenty of other outlets for my creative endeavors, but Blogger, YouTube, and Facebook, are about the only way I keep in touch with some of my family and friends. If it weren't for the people, I wouldn't be anywhere near these sites right now. I'd be writing a D&D quest or hammering away at a new article for GameCola, which runs on WordPress and is already fully compatible with Facebook.

Ironic that I'm being driven away from family and friends by changes that, in large part, are intended to keep us socially connected. Either the customer isn't always right, and I'm completely missing the point of the websites I've been using comfortably for years, or the customer is always right, and the developers and designers of these websites have mistaken a vocal majority (or worse yet, a vocal minority) for their larger customer base.

Either way, the end result is the same: I am exhausted, unhappy, and seriously questioning the value of continuing to fight Blogger, YouTube, and Facebook at every turn. And if the customer is always right, then there's nothing wrong with him taking his business elsewhere.


CuntrySongAndMegaman said...

Judging by the only two places that there is a Stew Leonards (Connecticut and New York), you must live EXTREMELY close to me, as I live in the former, and have shopped there. That is really cool!

Also, don't let advancement get you down. Everyone will get used to it; just like when people were against Elvis, Rock 'n Roll, technology, science, anything. It'll become the primary, and, unfortunately, people will forget there was ever anything else.

JoeReviewer said...

@CSAM You obviously only searched earth Stew Leonardseseses. It's okay, google set that as the default. They used to include the moon in their search options but now you have to find the "Lunar tab" and all your search results on the moon will come up. Just remember that it only lets you find all the best options if you +1 the page, and if you have a facebook account you have to type everything in binary code. Probably doesn't help that Stew Leonards are like McDonalds on earth though, so good luck finding the right one.

An interesting thing I've found mucking about youtube is that, though the full on redesignes are pretty much terrible. The smaller stuff they've been adding recently is actually kinda okay.

Not that it fixes any of the stuff the big redesign did, oh no it just makes some completely unrelated things a little better. I don't know what to tell you about these site changes except hope that maybe one day you can make your own website and never change anything ever. And take comfort in the fact that no matter how much the internet changes, whether it be site redesign, website wars, or complete death bill attacks from the evil forces of politicians, they can't change the people on the other side of the screen :)

Atrox said...

Ugh... This is the thing I've been complaining for quite a while.

Every newer layout for everything seems to be going to the "press this shiny buttons to do your stuff... it's magic!"

Of course I can get used to these new designs, but how long can I get to do it until a new horrible change is thrown onto my face?!