My fiancée and I spent this past weekend visiting with friends in NYC. Overall I had a great time, but I realized something important on this trip that I hadn’t before. I’m really sick and tired of technology. Well, actually I’m just tired of shitty technology and its vast abundance.
New York is often the first to get the latest and greatest technology. You’ll find that it’s always around you, but with a strange lack of consistency. Due to the nature of being “first”, there are many relics of legacy systems. What you’re left with is a jarring, inconsistent user experience. Added to that, you have multiple very different use cases all meshed into a single interface: tourists who don’t have a clue how to do anything, a multitude of different native speakers / cultures and New Yorkers who just don’t have time for your bullshit.
The first place this hit us was in the taxi. From previous experiences, we knew that Uber drivers are banned from airports. So after waiting in the pre-ordained taxi line, we got into the car. Immediately the flashing video advertisements started playing. Jimmy Kimmel and the like were playing on an infinite loop from hell. We struggled to understand the driver as we attempted to tell him our hotel’s address. At this point, we really could have used an Uber-like feature to insert our destination. Before we knew it we were off to our hotel – we hoped. I then noticed that New York taxis have their own Uber-like app we could have used. Just what I need, another app to install on my phone.
After quite a bit of traffic, we arrived at our hotel. We stayed at the Andaz in the Financial District – Hyatt’s new concept hotel. It is a blatant and perhaps desperate attempt to attract millennials with an over-abundance of technology. It was underwhelming, to say the least. The hotel room emulates a smart home with automated lighting, automated curtains, music, etc. But simple things about the user experience were just overlooked. Things, like coming in from a long flight and trying to turn on the bathroom light turned into a struggle.
I watched in awe as after pressing a few buttons there was an orchestra unfolding before us. First, the gentle hum of the curtain motors going up and down, followed suit by the sound system turning on, finally concluded with a light show as the room lit and dimmed in a masterful array of lights. Granted, it only took us a few more minutes to fully master the switches and buttons. But still not something you want to have to figure out when you’re tired.
It wasn’t long until we started to notice even simpler things that were overlooked. Things like remnants of a purchase sticker stuck on the artwork in the room. It left a very cheap feeling despite the expensive technology. Something you would never expect from a room costing you $500 a night. Fortunately, we didn’t pay anywhere close that thanks to Hotwire.
By the time the weekend was over and we made our way to LaGuardia, technology fatigue (and real fatigue) had fully set in. Getting through security was a hassle as usual. As you would expect, we were able (and encouraged) to use our smartphones for everything. As our tickets were together and on the same device, I had to hold up the line every time I had to scan my boarding pass and then wait to switch to my fiancée’s pass – efficiency at work.
After we made it through security we began our search for food. We immediately noticed that there were iPads everywhere. Literally every seat in the airport had an iPad in front of it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many iPads in one location. They were all equipped with a hijacked launch screen with poorly built apps – all with yet more flashy screens! Blackjack, poker, and random apps subtitled with “scratch and play” interspersed with video advertisements of – you guessed it – Jimmy Kimmel. So we returned to our search for finding food. Even the high priced low-lighting steak restaurant had iPads at every table booth.
We sat down and got ready to order our food. The entire process had to be done on the iPad at the table through the dining app. There was a section for “Drinks” and “Menu” which at first seems logical. It was only after browsing for a few minutes that we discovered that the “Drinks” section was for wine only. If you want to order water, beer, coffee or literally any other beverage it’s on the “Menu” section. Very intuitive!
As you may know, your phone screen is the breeding grounds for germs. God only knows how many germs are on the screen of a publicly used tablet at an airport. So, of course, the first thing I want to do before I eat my food is to touch this disease infested screen. Of course, you can always pay extra for the hand sanitizer. Since the tablets are facing opposite each other, we have to order our meals individually – so much for romance.
So I order my food and get ready to check-out, the sliding mechanism has no indication which direction the card magnet should go. I try several times before I get it right. A waitress comes over to bypass the pin security and email screens, just telling me I should input the very secure pin of 1111. I assume this is because many customers have had issues getting to this actual point.
Finally, my fiancée is ready to input her order. Since the waitress already placed my order for me I have to add her order to my tab in order for the food to come out at the same time. I found myself playing waiter as my fiancée reads me her order from her screen. Meanwhile, the waitress is looking over my shoulder, coaching me where to input the items on my screen.
Suddenly we’re interrupted by a phone call from my bank. My bank lets me know that my debit card has been flagged for fraud. I assume this is due to the app’s high volume of insecure credit card transactions. I have to step out of the restaurant to go listen to an automated phone call. I wait for 5 painstaking minutes as a very slowly robot reads every transaction I made throughout my trip in New York. Finally, after punching in the proper sequence of dial tones I’m able to return to our dinner table.
Trying to have a conversation at the dinner table was nearly impossible. The non-stop Jimmy Kimmel loop was playing on our respective iPads. Just the dinner ambiance we were looking for. I found myself pulling up the web browser and searching for a website with a black screen. Just so I could get it out of my way as you can’t turn the damned thing off. Which actually worked, until I was presented with the “Are you still there?” timeout which promptly returned me to the shitty advertisements.
Our food was mediocre at best, which despite our assurances did not come out at the same time. This was a stark contrast to the restaurants we dined at in Manhattan but came with the same price. Because the entire meal was paid in full before the service was rendered, our power as a customer was virtually removed. Of course, we could have complained, but that would have been a huge hassle. Not something you have time for when you’re catching a flight.
Now it was time to go to the bathroom and cleanse ourselves of the iPads. As you would expect, everything in the bathroom was automated. Automatic soap dispensers, hand dryers, paper towel dispensers, flushes, etc. Automation, but no concern for user experience or even efficiency. For example, the sensor on the hand soap consistently dispensed soap whenever I walked up to it. Or when I accidentally put my hand too close to try to get water.
None of the dozen or so paper towel dispensers had any paper in them – and those were the ones where the sensors actually worked. Most of the time it was just me flailing my arms in front of it with no response like an idiot. At this point, I’m tired and frustrated and just want to clean my hands and dry them. As a final screw you, I hear a series of ghost flushes as I walk to the exit.
But it’s not all bad. There were plenty of charging stations for your phones, laptops, etc. The wifi was easy to connect to and plentiful – albeit expensive. But I still couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by my fatigue of shitty technology. I know that we can and should do better. It has brought me to the point where I’m tired of waiting for somebody else to do it.
Are these problems trivial? Perhaps, and sure a lot of them can be written off as just being dumb and not paying attention. One at a time they are manageable, but all at once the fatigue builds up. I love technology and I want to see it everywhere. I think it’s amazing that we are at a point where a pointless rant like this can be made. But I worry about the fatigue setting into the general population and we start to see a movement against technology because of that.
We’re at a point where the infrastructure is there. An iPad at every turn, wifi connectivity in abundance and plenty of charging stations. The only thing we are missing is high-quality software with a UX requirement driven beyond just “getting it done.” So I’m going to practice what I preach and begin by making an open source automated hand soap dispenser.
Will I be successful? Who knows. But I want to try. I’m sure afterward I’ll have a greater appreciation for the software developers that made the system you find in your standard bathroom. I believe that open source software will one day run the world. I’m tired of waiting for someone else to do it. You know, be the pull request you want to see in the world ;)