Curmudgeons of the world, unite against complexity

I have just about had it. Every technical product I own has conspired to make me feel stupid and old.

Yesterday my Nextel phone suddenly started answering for me — my kid told me that I had inadvertently activated the Auto Answer feature. I didn’t even know I had an Auto Answer feature…and of course I had no idea how to turn it off. My sleek new Motorola Razr has an instruction manual that is 101 pages. I haven’t read a 101-page book in five years.

I am tired, tired, tired of products that are smarter than I am and delight in proving how inept I am. I want a whole new set of products. Products for those of us over 50 — with simple instructions, fat buttons and our own help line manned by people over 50 who will not talk in jargon.

Damn it, technology people, we elder statesmen have all the money, we have the time….Why do you continually put in features that we will not use within our (short) lifetime? When will you people realize that we are a major market unto ourselves?

When you put in all these features that we will never use, we feel ripped off because we are paying for functionality that serves us no earthly good. No, I am not going to record streaming video on my cell phone. No, I am not going to record my favorite 100 songs and no, I am not going to be shooting the remake of “Apocalypse Now” on my iPod nano. Just leave us alone with our dotage and some technology that actually works.

Years ago, I ran a major conference at the Taj Mahal hotel when it first opened. Donald Trump comp’d me with a beautiful room with a sunken bathtub and mirrors on the ceiling. My fantasy — except my eyes weren’t good enough to see what was going on. Instruction manuals are written in four-point type so only an eagle could read them. My memory isn’t so good, so I have to be retrained every morning on the features I learned yesterday that I will never use.

I have a home entertainment system so complex that I have to have the guy who installed it over every month to show me how to make it work — at $80 an hour. I have remotes for my remotes.

And if someone inadvertently hits the wrong button, I am infinitely screwed, as I am 8 1/2 miles out of town on a dirt road. You try and communicate with DirecTV, which seems to have its service desk on Mars. How am I supposed to know which satellite I am honed on? And stop sneering at me!

My computer mocks me. My printer conspires to have paper jams when it meets with all my other high-tech toys and decides that I haven’t had enough pain. Did I mention my car? It now has Bluetooth and sometimes for no apparent reason refuses to let me open the door. Or suddenly locks up the instrument panel when I turn on satellite radio.

There is a conspiracy out there and I am not taking this lightly. My watch, which tells me the depth I am diving, suddenly thinks I want to know this information in German. The GPS in my car seems to take perverse glee in calling me names (“Turn immediately left, Howard, you dummkopf!”)

I put in an invisible fence for my dog and now my car refuses to leave the yard. It’s like there is a union job shop action where the devices own me instead of my owning them. My iPod has been sent back to Apple so often it thinks Steve Jobs’ home is its home.

I am giving every one of my toys final notice: Shape up and stop this torture! I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore.

QuickLink: 050805

–Anderson is the founder of The Yankee Group and YankeeTek, and a co-founder of Battery Ventures. He lectures on technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and speaks on technology subjects at meetings across the country. He can be reached athanderson@yankeetek.com.