My work computer was recently upgraded. I, for one, am quickly tiring of uppity software assuming it knows what I need it to do. This is most evident in Microsoft products, such as Excel, which no longer shows the toolbar unless you click it every single time you want to use it (which is constantly), and Word, which hides tracked changes unless you tell it not to. Hello? Why do you track changes if you don’t want to see what’s been changed when you finish? The one positive thing I’ve noticed is now that when you highlight a fine name in “File Explorer” and press the forward arrow key it actually goes the the end of the title rather than just one letter back from the start. Another goodie is when you go to select an attachment and Outlook assumes you want to send a file you’ve just been working on—good for you!
The main concern I have, however, is that algorithms are now trying to anticipate what we want. They already track our browsing interests (I once accidentally clicked on a well-timed pop-up ad for a device for artfully trimming certain private hairs—my aim isn’t so good any more and that would belie the usefulness of said instrument—only to find the internet supposing I preferred the shaved look. I have an old-growth beard on my face and haven’t shaved in over three decades, and that’s not likely to change, no matter how many ads I get). Now they’re trying to assume they know what we want. Granted, “editor” is seldom a job listed on drop-down menus when you have to pick a title for some faceless source of money or services, but it is a job. And lots of us do it. Our software, however, is unaware of what editors need. It’s not shaving.
In the grip of the pandemic, we’re relying on technology by orders of magnitude. Even before that my current job, which used to be done with pen and paper and typewriter, was fully electronic. One of the reasons that remote working made sense to me was that I didn’t need to go into the office to do what I do. Other than looking up the odd physical contract I had no reason to spend three hours a day getting to and from New York. I think of impatient authors and want to remind them that during my lifetime book publishing used to require physical manuscripts sent through civilian mail systems (as did my first book). My first book also included some hand-drawn cuneiform because type didn’t exist for the letters at that particular publisher. They had no way, it turns out, to anticipate what I wanted it to look like. That, it seems, is a more honest way for work to be done.