What’s The Most Annoying Tech?


Remington, Brother, Wordstar, Betamax, 8-Track, cassettes, for god’s sake – I feel as if I’ve been through the technological mill, and you probably do too…but good technology changes us daily.

This morning I answered my door to a tradesman via my mobile from a different country. Last night I turned down the heat in my flat from 5,000 miles away. My bathroom scales just worked out my BMI and suggested I take a run this afternoon (slow saunter more like), my movies from London are being downloaded to my Spanish TV as I write this.

But there are annoyances, and for all the promises from tech companies that they’ll deal with our minor complaints, niggles and problems, nothing much improves.

HDMI cables. We have thousands of them but never the right one because the plugs keep changing. So we hoard boxes of them the way you used to put photos in a shoebox.

Handsets. We have five (or possibly six) all for different things. The days of finding a universal remote that can be programmed by someone other than Elon Musk or the T-1000 are now gone. Our last all-encompassing remote was bought in Singapore airport and took two full days to set up.

All mention of all things futuristic halt at iTunes, the music player that’s like a patched Victorian boiler puffing and wheezing in the basement of technology’s gleaming tower. It has been repaired and extended, its leaks resealed, its pipes bandaged and still it’s not fit for purpose because its basic structure remains unchangeable without starting over – which might be the best idea. Developed before the word ‘intuitive’ entered the English language it remains ungainly and impossible to customise. I’ve rebuilt my libraries so often that I now have personalised software for it.

And Microsoft Word. Bane of my life. The English language periodically reverts to Merkane even after I’ve changed all the settings, and it seems determined to foist bad working practices on me. It clearly wasn’t designed by a writer. Its dictionary – sorry, ‘Look Up’ because you know, four syllables, too demanding – is limited and its thesaurus is so impoverished that it often fails to think of a single word alternative. The top blue bar is so cluttered that it’s hard to find a point on it to drag around.

Many of our home plugs are flash drive-enabled, but occasionally I still have to use a three pin plug. Why the flippety-flip do we have the most peculiar electrical system in the world? I hardly own a thing that has come or came with such a plug. And have you ever accidentally stood on one in bare feet?

Water-saving cisterns – tiny and great. Now could someone invent one that you can actually get at when it starts leaking? Oh, and if we’re planning to send astronauts to Mars, could we also invent a way of stopping a bloody toilet seat from coming loose?

Where’s the 3D laser-cut kits we were promised? Jetpacks? Clean air? Unprocessed food? Vegetables that don’t come wrapped in plastic?

Best invention? The Cloud. Thank you for saving my precious pages from fire, flood and my own stupidity. If you’re a writer, don’t tell me you do your finest work on a Corona Portable Manual X26 because I’ll know you’re a lying liar. They don’t even make carbon paper anymore. Probably.

I’m not complaining. Tech is so much easier to deal with now. I just wish I hadn’t had to go through a thirty year learning curve.


15 comments on “What’s The Most Annoying Tech?”

  1. Brian Hawkins says:

    Wonderful, Mr Fowler. I particularly like your oh so accurate description of iTunes. I thought it was just me. I live with Word only because Pages is worse. But we still use these apps so there is no motivation to improve or, as you suggest, rebuild them to make them intuitive and functional.

  2. Jane says:

    Oh, I love three pin plugs! You can always work out which way up to plug them in, unlike these fiddly blasted continental things (which, incidentally, aren’t much less painful when you stand on them in the dark).

    Also, the thing you need for Word – at least to sort out the “teenage boy has stupid idea and we all then have to live with it” chaos that is the Ribbon – is UBitMenu (http://www.ubit.ch/software/ubitmenu-languages/) – it gives you back the original Word menu layout, in which you can easily find any option without having to look it up first on Google to work out where the feck it’s been hidden.

  3. Wayne Mook says:

    Clipper cards on buses, so easy to bend, half the time the driver ended up clipping them.

    I’m not an Apple fan, terrible company ethos and don’t get me started on software licences, a con that keeps on conning.


  4. DC says:

    Self service ticket machines and checkouts. There is no standard to the piggin’ things and the option buttons are all over the place. They even colour code things, forgetting a decent proportion of us are in fact colour blind!

    I do know my way round a lot of tech stuff but these machines make me feel like an 86 year old with dementia.

  5. Vivienne says:

    I have often fantasised about reinventing English plumbing. For a start a proper space behind stuff in the kitchen. This means deeper width worktops which can only be a good thing. Loo seats! I am facing dismantling a whole shower to get to the loo in the corner for this. Why on earth can they not be fixed from above? I may become incandescent if I think of plugs.

  6. Martin Tolley says:

    It’s not tech itself that annoys me, it’s the poor implementation – bad software design like having to make multiple clicks through menus to get to something that should be upfront and obviously in front of you. And am I the only one to feel patronised by the “are you really sure you want to…delete/save/leave etc? Why are computer and calculator keypads always laid out with 1 at the bottom left and 9 on the top right, whereas phones have the number 1 at top left and 9 at bottom right? And how do you use a touch screen if you’re visually disabled? And why does heaps of current software STILL have a floppy disk (remember those?) icon for saving stuff?

  7. Jo W says:

    Aah,the self loosening lavatory seat,the invention of the devil. ‘Imself fits the new loo seat- yes fine,tightly bolted and secure- then a few days later it slews itself round in a desperate attempt to face north when the pan faces west. Aaaarrrgh!

  8. Red Wolf says:

    I don’t know if they actually do still make carbon paper or there’s just a leftover horde of it somewhere, but I needed it for something (not in any way writing related) a few years back and it was a bugger of a thing to track down.

  9. snowy says:

    You are all going to regret this question being posed when I’m still breathing and within reach of a keyboard, you really will.

    Heating? a) It’s nearly June! b) You are not there. Are you breeding newts?

    iTunes, *shakes head*

    People still use Word? How astonishingly retro. It only remains in use because everybody thinks it it is the only game in town. There are plenty of others about, if you need a full-fat solution Libre Office is one and is fully customisable, [you can even build your own menus]. Oh and it is free. The sticker is what the next person in the “workflow” [horrible phrase] wants, text is just text!

    The British electrical system is certainly unique, designed in the 1940s to be both economic and safe and improved ever since. [There is a lot going on in the background that people never notice, fault tolerance for one.]

    USB enabled plugs, a novel idea, because using a properly tested charger that can moderate it’s output to suit the device is such a chore. Much easier to put a piece of utter tat in each socket, no output control, probably not safety tested, constantly draws power and if it fails it will shut down the whole circuit, yes so much better /irony/

    If a cistern leaks it is either completely rubbish or not installed properly.

    I bet nobody thought this would be a diy forum, but here it comes!

    Toilet seats will always eventually move there is no way round it, [short of welding the hinge to the pan.]

    Plastic screws? they stretch, who’d of thunk?

    The closest one can get is the following, to be followed exactly or bad things will happen, like a broken bowl!

    From the top down:
    Metal fixing
    Neoprene washer*
    Ceramic bowl
    Neoprene washer*
    Penny washer
    Full nut

    Tighten till firm

    Now while holding the full nut perfectly still with the spanner, add a half nut and tighten that against the full nut.

    [ NOTE
    These instructions to be read carefully and fully understood: before commencing operations! Don’t come crying to me if bits snap off.]

    [* This would ideally be a stepped washer, but it is staggeringly unlikely that you will find them in any of the usual shops!]

    ** Now wash your hands **

    Back to the properly nerdy

    Phone vs Keyboard

    Standby for some human factor engineering!

    “Dialling” a number?

    This was usually/originally done standing or sitting in front off an appliance. When you are searching out a number in a sequenced list it would be odd to start counting up from the bottom, when in most Western scripts lists are ordered L-R T-B.

    With me so far?

    Hang on it’s going to go a bit esoteric.

    Entering numbers into an adding machine/calculator/computer:

    Numbers found in real world samples have a non Guassian distribution, got that?

    Know what it means?

    Not surprised, it almost always not very important.

    Real world numbers cluster around 1,2,3 and thin out towards 7,8,9. OK so far?

    So if you are designing a machine for a human to enter real world numbers into you put the most used keys within easiest reach. That’s it!

    [The other use for the this distribution oddity is looking for faked data, real data has a characteristic ‘slope’ towards 1,2,3. If somebody tries to fake it up they throw in lots of what they think of as random numbers, This tends to change the slope to a ‘hump’]

    You were warned! (smiley thing)

  10. admin says:

    I knew this would happen…
    OK, two more.

    Change a word throughout a Microsoft document and since the latest upgrade, a new box appears telling you to basically thank Microsoft for having done what you asked. Begone!

    Emojis – cave painting for the illiterate little girl in all of us. Although adding a smiley unicorn after my excoriating letter to the accountant cheers me up.

  11. Mike says:

    The latest wc seats are fixed from the top and have a quick release seat for cleaning purposes.
    No more crawling around under the pan.

    Look at quick release wc seats on google

  12. Richard Burton says:

    This has encouraged some great comments! I may even attempt to wobble-proof the toilet seat. I could only think of one example of tech that really does annoy me, and it’s an unfair one. Our modern car has all the safety gubbins (guess which Swedish company made it),and so it loves telling me I’m going too fast, using the wrong gear, leaving my lane, going the wrong way etc. Plus it switches itself off at junctions just when I want to pull out. It’s like having a parent in the car. No, it’s worse, my dad was a driving instructor and even he wouldn’t nag as much as the car does. It takes a while to switch all this off before leaving the house…

  13. Peter Tromans says:

    Let me defend the UK. Almost everything in our domestic electric systems is better than the rest of the world in safety and convenience.

    Plumbing was never good and all the improvements have only made it worse. Toilet cisterns are top of the list. They used to need repair every few years. Now, it’s every few months and they are too small for me to get my hand inside. Please send them all back to Germany or wherever they came from.

    Computers: I stuck with Microsoft as my customers use it. As OS, I have Windows 7, because it works, unlike…

    Cars: am I the only person who hates those twiddly dials for working satnavs?

    Dare I mention autocorrects that change satnav to standard?

  14. Ian Luck says:

    I will never use self-service checkouts. I feel that they are doing somebody, somewhere, out of a job. If faced, as I was recently with a shop that only had the self-service tills, I put my purchases down, and walked. The darn things are often incorrect and get stuck. If there are automatic tills, and ones with people at them, then there will be a queue for the manned tills. Always.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    Appreciate the toilet seat advice even though ours seems firmly fixed.
    I am seeing Libre Office more and more on incoming documents.
    Being intellectually lazy I still use Microsoft (tried to interest the household in Lynux but no luck) and agree that Windows 7 is where to stay since nothing since has satisfied anyone. I don’t seem to have autocorrect on my machine and am glad because it would infuriate me even if it were correct.

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