postheadericon TECH TALK: On Gross National User Happiness...


Facebook must have changed something in their interface today, as I woke up to invites to "Make Facebook Change It Back" and "I'm leaving" messages from users. Even my news feed is twittering with headlines like "Facebook Changes Angers Users" and "Firestorm of Anger Hits Facebook." It was like waking up to barking dogs.

But I've noticed of late that these outbursts of frenzied yelping every time some software or popular website makes a change are not isolated or rare, but are instead fast becoming the norm. So I'm wondering why...

Why did tens of thousands of Mac users flock to the Apple website to vent profusely over the release of OSX Lion, when this OS upgrade price dropped by 60% and could now be downloaded online? Why also did thousands of Final Cut Pro users do the same when an upgrade costing hundreds of USD less hit the App Store?

It seems that computer rage has taken to the internet, and is starting to infect such social media hotspots as FB, blogs, and Twitter, even to the point of getting hotheads ejected from public spaces. An not just virtual spaces, where posting in all caps and using banned language can get you blacklisted, but your rage can get you in trouble in the real world as well. Take for example the case of Alison Matsu...

Miss Matsu was recently having drinks in downtown bar in America when she tweeted "the bartender is a twerp" with the hashtag #jackoff to punctuate her feelings. A few moments later, she was asked to leave the establishment by the restaurant manager in charge.

So here we have computer rage coming full circle in a new dimension; no longer do we just pound on the keyboard violently when we lose two hours of homework when our laptop goes bluescreen, but we also use social media to let everyone know that we are pissed blue in the face – AND - that same social media is coming back to bite us, perhaps when our boss reads our post and decides to let us go, or our spouse realizes that without anger management classes, we are no longer fit to be with.

I find this trend a bit disturbing; how about you?

It's not news that computers and the software that makes them tolerable is frustrating to use, but it does seem that devices designed to make out lives easier and more enjoyable, are doing anything but...

Consider Netflix's recent loss of 1 million subscribers, when a slight increase in the rental rate drove 1/10 of the company's user base away overnight. Here was rage gone viral. And when Reed Hastings, the company's CEO, tried to apologize for the change, he drove tens of thousands more customers out the virtual door.

The lesson learned here is, if you are a website owner, be careful about making any change to your online business, as users are fickle beasts and need to be treated accordingly. And if you are a just the average Facebook Jane or Joe, be careful what you post there as well...

Take the recent case of Jeson Senador, now facing animal cruelty charges from the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) for posting a pic of his puppy hanging on a clothesline after getting a bath. What was intended as a joke is looking to turn into a fine or jail time.

The power of users to incite social change as well as business change cannot be denied, as puppy abusers to power abusers are being pummeled and toppled around the globe, as seen this Arab Spring, where dictators fell like dominoes - in part by the ire expressed on social media sites. Even the mighty Apple Corporation abdicated that recent change to its Final Cut Pro upgrade decision mentioned earlier, and conceded to continued shipping the old version along with the new.

So in this light, I am recommending that there be a Gross National Happiness User poll, to find out how happy we are as computer users these days, and then perhaps a development project can be started to improve the situation as part of the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

But for those that can't wait, there are online companies that offer online anger management classes with court approved therapy (www.angermanagementonline.com). And then there is always the e-book "Stop Anger, Be Happy" by Kathy Garber that can be order on Amazon.com.

The questions is (in a nut-case-shell), are we becoming increasingly unhappy using computers as they become more and more critical in our daily lives, or is it that our global connection that is making it easier to spread this unhappiness around the world? I'm not sure, so you tell me.

First published in "The Week" on Sept. 23 2011


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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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