Friday, September 25, 2009

User frustrations

Crowds of shoppers continue to pour into the city to visit the new John Lewis store. Everywhere else seems to be benefiting as well, including the tea room, which was very busy today, and as it turned out, short staffed, so I had to wash up before and after the Eucharist to help them cope with the demand.

This meant that I wasn't able to go up to St Michael's College for the introduction of new students on placement, but for me this year it wasn't so crucial as Andrew Highway and I have known each other since I started the job here in the city centre. By sheer co-incidence, Sunil and I bumped into Andrew yesterday afternoon in John Lewis', as he was taking a detour in between work meetings to check it all out.

After the tea room closed, I spent an hour on the computer checking to see if Talktalk had done anything to remedy the line fault (reported yesterday) which is making our internet connection an occasional, fleeting thing. How much we've come to rely on having the facility in church, to keep everything running efficiently. I guess there's been a wholesale shift in communications and administrative culture which is now reaching into every corner of society. Since the advent of broadband, it's become so pervasive. Yet, quite apart from the quality of the infrastructure not keeping up with demand, the quality of the actual means of communication and the discipline with which they are used are still less than fit for purpose, still less than idiot-proof.

O know, for instance that my old email address still lives on in office PC circulation lists and data servers in the Council, the Church in Wales and a host of other organisations, all of which have been requested (often more than once) to take note of the new address and delete the old. I can have correspondence with people using my current address, and then miss a vital distribution of documents because the information update has not been rigorously entire. On top of this, there are issues of security. To keep up to date and secure all the time involves a fair amount of machine minding for individual users, small offices etc. There's the temptation not to bother if one is in a hurry, and that may lead to a machine being compromised. Every new improved system turns out to have its flaws and weaknesses, and its frustrations because the usability and intelligibility of the user interface is simply not good enough for new and experienced users alike.

Most cars are familiarly similar in the layout of their basic controls for a driver to be able to get in and go. Road layouts and signage conventions are the same on a national basis, and nearly the same internationally, apart form the side of the road you drive on. Why can't safe and efficient use of computers be as simple to adapt to as driving a car?

Clare and I decided to go down the Bay to watch Nofit State circus in Roald Dall Plas. We opted to go by bus. The first to turn up outside the Hilton was only going as far as the station. The driver said there was one behind going all the way. So we didn't get on, we waited. Ten minutes later, the next one sailed past us bearing the information that it was not in service. Having waited 20 minutes, this left us insufficient time to walk to the other side of the city centre and catch a bus that would get us there for the start of the circus, so we gave up and went home, annoyed.

Admittedly early evening is a transitional time with bus routing, due to the closure of lower St Mary Street to make it safer to fall about drunk all night without being rolled over by a bendy bus. The lack of useful relevant information to aid bewildered visitors and knowledgable locals alike is utterly contemptible laziness on the part of the company's marketing arm. It undermines the efforts the city is making to raise itself in the ranks of must-visit destinations.

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