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Life with Liz: Continuous upgrades

Published January 12. 2019 07:28AM

When I got my computer last year, it came with a service package that includes upgrades. Last week, an update ran that “upgraded” all my Office programs. My first aggravation when these kinds of things run is that they start running in the background and suddenly programs turn sluggish or stop working altogether, and I have no idea why. My second aggravation is that these upgrades all come with tiny tweaks that serve to rock my world for the next few weeks until I adjust.

I spend a lot of time on my PC as part of my full-time job, my part-time job and maintaining coaching records, so even a small change like moving the “save” button a quarter inch from where it used to be can turn into a recipe for disaster. Instead of “saving,” I’ve managed to “undo,” and of course I can never remember what the last thing I did was.

Whatever changes happened behind the scenes, apparently a new version of programs like Word and Excel have also come out. So every time I open an old document and save it, I now get a message that says, “Do you want to convert this document to the latest format?” I really don’t know the answer to that question. I click yes and hope for the best. Or sometimes, I click no. Just depends on my mood.

Things can get really bad when they move the “reply” and “reply all” buttons, because you know there are sometimes when you want to send a response, but not everyone needs to see it. And, for some reason, the calendar function seems to have been the most tweaked with, and now I’ve got color code options and time zone changes and all sorts of fun things going on, so who knows where I’m supposed to be and when.

The intelligent part of me knows that these improvements probably have a thoughtful reason behind them. (At least I hope it’s not just a ploy to sell new software.) But the rote memory part of me that has fallen into a routine of click the buttons and move on with life is losing my mind.

One of the jobs I used to have was as a facilitator of something called “Continuous Improvement.” In manufacturing circles this is also known as “Lean Enterprise.” The theory behind it is that we constantly have the ability to improve and streamline a process so that we obtain the maximum amount of efficiency and the least amount of waste. I’m pretty sure that we reached that point about three software versions ago, but what do I know?

I imagine there is a similar person or team of people working to improve all these standard office software programs. Right now, they are my least favorite people in the world, and they have significantly cut down on my productivity and I’ve had to redo a lot of lost work and spent time searching for new ways to do the old functions.

Of course, there is a small button on all of these programs that says “See what’s new!” that I could at any time click and maybe have an answer to some of my questions, or at least an explanation for change, or maybe a whole new way of doing something that is 10 times easier than what I’m currently doing. Do you think I will click that button and take 15 minutes to read through it? Of course not. It’s another instruction manual that I will chuck into the figurative drawer and not open until I hit dire straits.

We as humans are both creatures of comfort and creatures who constantly want to make things better. One of my favorite quotes to repeat to myself as I go on yet another search for a simple function that is now complicated is “we like progress, but fear change.” Although I’m not so much fearing change right now as I am being aggravated by it.

All in all, I’m trying to remain calm and give myself a little leeway to make mistakes and a little more time to stop and double check that I’ve really executed the function that I meant to execute. I’m also being extremely polite on all my emails and not writing a single thing that I wouldn’t want everyone in the world to see, just in case I accidentally replied all instead of just sending it to a particular person.

Someone somewhere thought these changes were good things. This is a good exercise in trying to understand someone else’s point of view while learning to make it fit into your world. In the end, I will eventually adapt or find my own workarounds for these little annoyances. I keep telling myself that in three weeks, I’ll never remember the “old” way to do things. In the meantime, I’m firing up some different neurons and changing some muscle memory, and that’s supposed to be a good thing, too.

One of the programs that I use has a little secret, though. You can pick what version of the software your screen looks like. It takes all the new functionality that is developed and added, and it allows you to keep your screen looking exactly the same as it always has. I’ve used this program since 2002, and although it has many new functionalities, the screens I use still look exactly the same as they did in 2002. Don’t tell the other programs, but this one is my favorite. Any software engineers out there reading this? This “revert” function is the way of the future!

Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.

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