Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Life in Clicks

It has to be close to 15 years ago that I was introduced to the Logitech Marble Mouse. Not the one with the blue ball, but the older, flatter one with the red ball that is no longer in production. It took less than two days to become completely enamored of this mouse's advantages: my arm could pretty much stay still and my thumb and eyes conspired to draw when needed or otherwise navigate the workstation screen. I have a pretty good idea that Logitech's device preserved my right arm from carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS) over the years of heavy use, at home as well as work.

Yes, I spend a lot of time in front of a computer. I've already written about and shown pictures of my home system. Presently, I spend my weekdays on a Lenovo Pentium Dual Core workstation that uses Windows XP. Ten years ago that would be considered the state-of-the-art OS and few PCs could touch it for performance. Maybe not the same as cat years or dog years, but computers age on a quicker scale than humans. Software groomed for use on Windows 7 and 8 has no mercy on an OS like XP. Or on the person using it, who often resorts to looking at his smartphone while waiting for the system to complete some arcane process that has frozen the screen.

It's slow. I'm back to opening Photoshop and going for coffee. I could take the elevator and buy it 18 floors away, and still find it settling in. Running with Outlook on and two browsers open is a challenge to my patience when I'm used to my laptop at home blazing away.

With time measured in such slow motion, life becomes measurable in clicks. The question to ask, particularly when you've reached my ripe age, is have I been given an unlimited number of clicks? I've been using a computer for close to three decades. The number of clicks I've performed is one of those rare times when "myriad" is not an exaggeration in measuring them. Consequences exist for those who click beyond their limitations. CTS is only one of them, I'm sure. I can feel strains in my wrist and along my arm, pinging my elbow and worming its way to my shoulder.

You would think of all people who live by clicks, developers would be among those who wage a constant fight against clicks. A Web developer certainly knows that the usability of her site rises and falls with the number of clicks it takes to get to a page. When I started my present job, one of my main duties is as Webmaster for our section's site. My war on clicks began. I can cut down the clicks it takes to get to our pages but the tools I use don't share my goals.

For instance, with a slow OS, I find myself facing this message: "You chose to end the nonresponsive program, ______." If Microsoft truly wanted me to send the report, maybe it would take into consideration the number of clicks it costs for me to do them this service. (See the next two graphics.) Maybe those boxes could just fade after a number of seconds that I am given a chance to determine with the Control Panel (or at least the administrators at the ABA).
 Easy to kick Microsoft for any number of ways it adds clicks to my life. It's like kicking a pigeon.

A company that ought to know better is Adobe. I've mentioned some of these tools before. After a recent major upgrade of their CQ5 content management system, I find it appalling how little regard their developers have for trying to limit clicks for its users. The image below shows how their editing window opens up each and every time I need to make adjustments or to create a new page. Because they limit me to an editing window 12 lines deep, I need to click on each side of that box to expand it to see as much of my page as they allow.

Another editing box that am obliged to work with is how we tag content with metadata. This box works vertically as well as horizontally to provide a list of the controlled vocabulary that goes into tagging our content. To adequately tag a paper submitted by a member to our digital assets manager (DAM) takes 36 clicks. Over the three months of our Midwinter Meetings, I will post close to 400 papers. More than 14,000 clicks. I find myself using my middle finger to click sometimes ... to save wear and tear on my pointer.

Any number of solutions to this unnecessary excess of clicking comes to mind. I could copy and paste tags, or since I'm doing a batch of 20-40 papers that share the same tags, a way to process them in multiples shouldn't be that difficult to program. We're not talking about a brand new product, but one that is in version 5 and charges a beefy licensing fee for it use. Users have had plenty of time to register complaints but nothing has been done. Adobe has plenty of competition that does these things more efficiently, too. (So, yes, our IS department shoulders the culpability in my inevitable decline toward CTS. I've mentioned it to them once or twice now.)

I could mention any number of other ways that my burden of clicks could be eased by Webmasters and our IS department, but these are sufficient examples. 

I should hope by now that you have been inspired to consider ways in which you are wasting clicks on software or at favorite Websites. (As always, feel free to comment!) We pay for these things with more than dollars. We also pay in clicks.

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