Apologies for the New Look

It’s like New Coke. You take something everybody loves, and mess with it for no reason.

So when I opened Wordpress a couple of days ago, it asked to update the theme I’d been running—the sort of visual template package that organizes site elements. And I didn’t pay close enough attention. The prior updates (and it gets updated every couple of weeks or so) went from like 1.8.6 to 1.8.7, little bitty tweaks. But this one was a new version, a 2.0. And once it applied, the site was a shambles. The only thing visible was the header and the menu. No content showed, regardless of which page you clicked on.

So we’re driving a loaner this week while I figure out how to fix the other one. Same great content, but in a generic can.

And that leads to the content portion of today’s program. Technology (like all forms of progress) is usually seen as both inevitable and beneficent. We all want the latest, we love being able to sign the credit card thing with our finger at the restaurant, we love asking Alexa about tomorrow’s weather or to play some limp jazz for our dinner guests. But that stuff isn’t just magic. Somebody’s got to write and test the code, make sure the hardware supports it, and get in there and fix it when it breaks. And I know usually it breaks from operator error, I get that, but that’s why we have IT specialists. I don’t WANT to know how my software works, and I don’t care if they make fun of me behind my back for not knowing some simple workaround. I have my job, you have yours.

Every institution of more than a dozen or so people now has an IT person, or persons, whose job it is to make the magic be invisible, and to step in whenever it kludges up. And the purchase of all that hardware, and all that software, and all that networking equipment, and all that bandwidth, and all the people who support it and make it run and update it, that’s all a cost that businesses didn’t carry forty years ago. Does it make us more productive? In most jobs, you’ll never know the answer to that, because productivity is a concept borrowed from pace of manufacturing, the number of transmission linkages you can make in an hour. What makes a teacher more productive? Not wasting time on e-mail or loading homework assignments onto the LMS, I can tell you that.

When the ubiquity of the desktop computer became inevitable back in the early ’90s, one of my research colleagues said that it had brought about the era of the $100,000 a year typist. The old steno pools that supported millions of families were gone, replaced by the senior manager wasting hours a day on low-level work that she would have given to a secretary if she’d still had one.

I’m telling you, WordPress updates can make you a Luddite. Technology is wonderful, it really is, but it also lost a TON of jobs for the less educated, and it adds a significant and more highly paid cost center to almost every business. I’ll leave it to the accountants to decide how the balance has played out.