by JIM KNIPFEL
December 10, 2017
So This is Progress
I hate the Machine, and I hate being a slave to the Machine. That’s no secret. But given I am wholly dependent on my screen reader, VoiceOver, in order to work, here I am, loving the Machine for allowing me to continue working, hating it for enslaving me the way it does. Of all the things I resent about the System, it’s the ever-increasing acceleration of built-in obsolescence.
Cars, appliances, it seems everything being produced today has been carefully engineered to be completely worthless in a matter of a couple of short years, if not months. Then you need to throw them away and buy the latest, much more expensive and even shoddier models. This is wholly intentional, and the motivation is shamelessly transparent. My first VCR was a workhorse, played like a dream for fifteen years. Then the industry decided to switch to DVDs, which could be sold for twice the cost of tapes, and of course required a new machine. It also required that I replace all (or at least most) of those old VHS tapes with new DVDs. I probably went through four DVD players over ten years. Then the industry decided to switch everything over to Blu-Ray, which was even more expensive and required a new and more expensive machine, itself guaranteed to stop working in a year or so. Then everything went online, so if you wanted to see a movie you had to subscribe to this or that service and be content to watch fucking movies on a computer screen.
The computer industry is the most shameless of the lot when it comes to pre-ordained obsolescence. My old Mac Cube was glitch-free for a decade, until at last, even after cramming it full of as much memory as would fit, the advances in the technology left it incapable of doing even the most fundamental things.
Best thing you can do—and you really have no choice in the matter, do you?—is try and keep up with the system upgrades that seem to pop up every two or three months. Even if you have a top of the line machine, if you don’t keep up with those upgrades, the system you have installed will simply and suddenly no longer be compatible with anything else in the whole fucking world, and you’ll find yourself hopelessly tapping away at the most expensive paperweight on earth.
The really, really hilarious thing about it all is that with each upgrade, things just get clunkier and more frustrating and shittier. Which of course means you need to jump on the next upgrade in hopes it will resolve everything that went wrong with the last one. At the same time, you are agreeing to deal with the slew of new shortcomings and frustrating failures as you try to ignore the fact that it’s all merely snowballing. Hey! maybe if I drop another thousand on the latest device, that will clean it all up, right? At least for a couple of weeks until the new model comes out?
Yeah, it’s good to know all those programmers are doing what they’ve been told to do.
So last September Apple launched it’s latest miraculous operating system, leaping from what they were calling Sierra to what they were calling High Sierra, and the insistent demands that I follow suit began appearing automatically on my computer screen when I turned it on every morning. I ignored them for a few months. Let them chirp at me all they want, I didn’t care. I was able to function reasonably well with what I had. It had taken me awhile to reach that point, and I didn’t want to fuck with it.
Oh, but there are thousands of amazing new things you’ll be able to do that you could never do before, they promised. Yes. well, whatever. I continued to ignore them.
Finally, my wife said she’d take the plunge, try it out for a few weeks on her own machine, and let me know how it went. If it seemed okay, she’d install it on my Machine and I could stop waking up to fucking nagging advertisements every morning. I guess that seemed fair enough, so she went ahead and did it.
A week or two passed, and she told me she hadn’t noticed anything particularly irksome, so why don’t we go ahead and do it? So she hit a few buttons one night as I was drinking in the other room and let the torrent of new fabulousness flood into my computer, washing all the old crap away. Within an hour, I would find myself working in a glorious new landscape of high-tech wonderment and ease.
Well, just one tiny problem. My wife, being sighted, doesn’t need a screen reader, and so was unaware of the changes they’d made to VoiceOver. Drunk as I was, it took me about eight seconds to find this out for myself.
First, the upgrade had swept all my VoiceOver settings clean—all those things that determine the voice, the speed at which it reads, the volume at which it reads, and the amount of material on the screen it reads (like punctuation marks). So I turned on the Machine and suddenly it was gibbering at me like Stephen Hawking with a snootful of crystal meth. What’s more, a second voice (and this one sounded Irish) was repeating everything Hawking was saying like some kind of UN translator.
Okay, then. That’s a bit of a problem, and more than a little maddening.
“Um, honey? Could you come in here a second? And bring the baseball bat.”
It only took her a few minutes to get everything set back the way it was originally (and get rid of that second Irish voice), and I sat down again to find out what else was wrong. That didn’t take much time, either.
Without getting into all the boring technical details (I hate having to think of them myself), let’s just say there were a couple of simple, common sense things VoiceOver had always done to make typing, editing, and reviewing a text file as easy and logical as possible, none of which seemed to be included in the upgrade anymore.
“Um, honey? Could you grab that bat again?”
We both got online and started looking for more info, and she found a list of all the changes that had been made to VoiceOver for the new system. Oh, there were plenty of new things, alright, none of which affected me in the least. What wasn’t mentioned, however, were these fucking fundamental commands the smart joes at Apple had decided to excise for some reason. Without them, typing even the simplest of notes would suddenly and for no logical reason become an arduous pain in the ass.
The paranoid part of my brain immediately began drawing parallels between this and the present administration’s efforts to simply do away with the Americans With Disabilities Act. It was all a concerted effort on the part of the Feds and the country’s largest and richest corporations to keep the cripples as useless as possible, prevent us from doing anything or living independently. The ultimate goal was to shunt us all back into state-run institutions, so no one would have to look at us anymore. What else could explain it?
Well, the next morning, having sobered up a bit, I called the Apple Accessibility hotline. Despite this latest insidious ploy, I do have to admit Apple has always been pretty good about keeping a mind toward the cripples. After a few minutes on hold, I found myself on the line with a pleasant and lively hipster smarty-pants named Drew. And of course the first thing Drew wanted to do was get remote access to my computer, allegedly so he could see what the hell I was talking about.
Oh, I’d heard that ploy before, right? Usually from some Indian named “Fred.”
Christ, but here we go again, right? What choice did I have? I was fucked as it was. It was a choice between giving up still another big chunk of privacy or not being able to work again.
After about an hour on the phone, Drew could see what I was talking about, and admitted it seemed to be a real problem. What’s more, it was a real problem no one else seemed to have noticed, somehow. At that point he essentially shrugged. “Yeah, that’s a corker, alright.” In the end the best he could offer were a couple of ham fisted and clunky suggestions that weren’t exactly workarounds so much as they were “just see if you can deal with working this way from now on instead.”
So that’s what I’m doing. What choice is there, right? Fuck me. Well, on the bright side, at least now the Apple Corporation has access to nearly everything I’ve written, everything I will write from this point on, and everything else I had stored on this computer. Now I guess it’s just a matter of time before the Feds show up anyway, so not much point in worrying about it.
You can contact Jim Knipfel at this address:
With occasional exceptions Slackjaw generally appears weekly. For email notification of other Jim Knipfel publications (books, etc.) and events please join the Slackjaw email list here.