Savour what’s easy before it’s gone

Using my calling card used to be a relatively easy thing to do – I’d dial “0”, followed by the number I wanted to reach, wait for the “ping” sound, and then enter my calling card number and PIN. I even had all those numbers memorized because my calling card number was simply my phone number with a four-digit PIN on the end.

Tolerable and easily memorable. I looked forward to this procedure being made even easier in the future.

But no, tolerable and easily memorable stopped working. Turns out that

big-Canadian-telecom-company-number-one and big-Canadian-telecom-company-number-two either couldn’t come to an agreement on who was paying for what on whose infrastructure, or made some kind of change that put the kibosh on tolerable and easily memorable.

We got different, alright, but certainly not better.

Now I’ll admit I’m not a patient man at the best of times: the explanation from big-Canadian-telecom-company-number-one of all the stuff that I now had to do to make a call from anyone else’s pay phone made me almost apoplectic. “Remember to dial our 1-800 number first to access our system (another freakin’ number I had to remember), then hit ‘1’ for English, hit ‘1’ again for long distance (and, I learned the hard way, make sure you wait a reasonable time between the first 1 and the second 1 or you’ll bugger up the system), enter your new calling card number (by now this had changed to a long set of numbers not even remotely connected to what my phone number was) and last but not least, dial the area code and number of the person you’re trying to reach.”

And, oh yeah, have a nice day.

By the time I got to that point, I was damned if I could remember who I was calling in the first place.

All this extra overhead just because the two major carriers in Canada can’t figure out a way to make things simple on each other’s systems. Was it, as was explained to me, really a “necessary change to incorporate new technology and improve service?” If this is what new technology and improved service is doing for us, you can keep it.

And if it’s really because our two major telcos are fighting and can’t play nice with each other in the interests of their shared clients, a pox on both their houses.

The same kind of thing seems to be happening all over the place – more complex interfaces, more security and more passwords to remember. We’re definitely not going in the right direction.

What to do? I think we need a technology hero – somebody to cut through all the conflicting standards and interfaces, somebody to clean all this stuff up before all my passwords change next time and I burst a major blood vessel… But who? Superman is dead, Nelson Mandela is retired, and our current crop of politicians is, well, never mind.

So who’s gonna fix this whole mess? I nominate Steve Jobs.

So what qualifies Jobs? What has he ever done to make things easier in the technology world? Where do I begin?

First there’s the Mac, even if he did heist all the ideas from Xerox PARC. Then there’s the iMac. The NeXT box, even if it wasn’t a commercial success, was heading in the right direction: it was the first box I ever saw with a CD ROM drive instead of diskettes, and that was in the late-’80s. Object-oriented programming – OK, so he didn’t have anything to do with inventing it, but he did embrace it.

Steve Jobs for president of the technology world, I say – there’d be a chicken in every pot, and a clean and unified interface on every piece of technology.

And every public phone would be aesthetically cool too, I’ll bet.

Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at