Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

The annoyances of the modern age

A while back, I wrote an essay decrying some “downer” songs of the 1970s.

Nonetheless, we have some downers today that drive me crazy. The technology has changed, but if there’s a way to annoy someone technologically, people will find a way to do it.

1. I hate the “Support for” ads on NPR and the local public radio stations. Local NPR stations are notorious for stringing together vast numbers of “support for”s and having the local DJ read them all off. It’s a never-ending pain. What’s even more fascinating is that some of these outfits supporting the station financially are local nonprofits that are supposed to use their money to help people. Now, I love NPR programming and wish the stations well, but why are local nonprofits using their money to support a radio station?

2. I hate the way the same “support for” ad is read again and again. A couple of years ago, I was ready to pound my car’s radio because of a “support for” from a website called Angie’s List. It offered reviews on “plumbers, painters, movers – and now, doctors.” For two whole years, we were told, “and now, doctors.”

3. Credits on TV for closed-captioning. A few years ago, local stations discovered a new revenue source: the credit for closed-captioning. So if you’re watching a “Seinfeld” or “The Big Bang Theory” rerun on a local channel, you’ll see the show’s logo and hear a voice saying, “Support for closed-captioning of ‘Seinfeld’ comes from …” The good thing for the station is that they can also run off four more commercials before really taking you back to the show.

4. The “false-back.” You watch a seemingly endless string of TV commercials, then the screen goes black. Great, you think, back to the show, but then you get four more commercials. Congratulations, you’ve been the victim of a “false-back.” They made you think, because the fade to black indicated a hard transition – from TV program to commercial or vice versa – that they were coming back, but it was just to fool you into turning the sound back on. Then you got hit with the headache pill commercial again. Hah, fooled you!

5. Websites that “jump” around. Once upon a time, you went to a website and it formed in front of you. You could click on a link before the page finished downloading, and go where you wanted to go. Now, pages roll down, then up, sometimes ads appear, and sometimes you keep trying to click on something and it keeps jumping away, and you click on something else. Then you have to go back, and try again while the page reloads.

6. Multipage stories. You go to your local newspaper’s website, and follow a story down, down, down, and then you see the number two, then three, then four. You can have two responses: “Oh, goody-goody gumdrop: My story is on multiple pages,” or “Damn, I’m into a multipage story, and each takes five minutes to download.” The single-page option often is buried, or under an ad that expands when the mouse passes over it. Grrrr.

The latter is of so much interest, I wrote an essay but never uploaded it. Here it is:

Multiple-page stories make news sites a pain
Recently, readers of The New York Times online made a horrifying discovery. Something of importance to them had been taken away, and they were furious.

It’s just a little thing, but it means a lot to many people who read the news online: “Single Page” or “View One Page.”

It means that a news story on the website spans multiple pages, so when you get to the bottom, you’re not at the end of the story. No, you have to click on the number 2, or “Next Page” to continue to read the story, and then have to wait for that second page to download. And then the third. And so on. And if the connection is interrupted, or a bad ad is on the page, or something, well, you’re screwed and have to start over.

Even more fun is when you aren’t offered the single-page option, and when you click on the second page, all you see is boilerplate type in italics, with the reporter’s email address and phone number, meaning the story was just long enough to require a second page, and all that was left was the footer.

With the nonsense that goes on with web pages, it’s bad enough to have to click once on a story. To have to do it again, and sometimes have the full version not come up, or come up incomplete because of a bad ad, or freeze because of a bad ad, is intolerable.

New York Times readers are a vocal bunch, the loss of the “Single Page” option on their stories triggered a backlash, and a story appeared on Jim Romenesko’s website that described what happened. Apparently, it was a mistake during a technical change.

Some papers never break up their stories, and others always do it but put the “Single Page” button above the “fold.” A few put it at the bottom of the story, so you have to scroll all the way down first to see if it “jumps.”

Slate.com had a very slick idea. In its previous design, the single-page view option was under an ad that expanded when you moved your mouse pointer over it, and there were many times when I clicked on the “Constant Contact” ad instead of the single-page view, and had to back up and try again, this time being more careful where I put the mouse pointer.

The aggravating thing is that when you visit a page once, you have to visit it again to get the whole story, and then the “back” button doesn’t take you to the main page but to the story in multi-page mode. One thing you can do is open stories by right-clicking on them and opening them in tabs or other windows, but if a story is in a content rotator, that’s not an option.

Whether it’s multipage stories, “tricks” in TV advertising or something else, modern technological society seems pre-designed to annoy us to pieces.

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May 16, 2012 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , ,

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