I am about to break a lifelong rule. And I can’t even pretend I’m doing so for the sake of the English language. No, the issue is how I communicate — a topic that won’t rate a comma in the history of English. Yet it matters to me.
That’s where my rule comes in. I feel we journalists are far too ready to use our privileged position to air our private grievances, usually against some public body or big company. I’ve sworn not to, and for 54 years in the trade I’ve stuck to that, and will again.
One water company for years did its best to conceal from certain customers a charging system that could cut our bills sharply. That cost me £1,500, a lakh and a half of rupees. Its name? You must guess.
My car cost me more than that when its cylinder-head failed before it had travelled 40,000 carefully-driven miles. Will I name its German (!) maker? No. Or my bank, not bad at crediting or debiting my account, but hopeless at trickier tasks? No. Or my stockbroker, whose on-line records — ? I’ve said enough.
But my emails? For years I’ve mostly been happy with Yahoo’s (free) service. Then, two years or so ago, Yahoo began urging users to move to its new email system. I tried that, didn’t like it, and switched back. As Yahoo for a time allowed. Then it deleted the switch-back button: once you rashly tried the new system, you were stuck with it, unless you could follow the ways round which users techno-smarter than I am soon worked out. And then...
Last spring, Yahoo told its British customers that we’d soon be switched, compulsorily, to the new system. Predictably, when the switch was imposed, in June, the new system had plenty of faults and inconveniences. But in time I learned to live with it. And then, this month…! With no warning at all, we Brits found yet a third system rammed down our throats. So did millions of Americans (and maybe others?) who’d been allowed to stay longer on the classic system and had barely had time to grasp the second one.
Surprisingly, Yahoo asked for feedback. “You’ll love” the new features, it smugly informed us. We didn’t. Tens of thousands of ferocious complaints poured in. Not just about the lack of warning, bad enough, but about umpteen features of the lovable new system. For a start, it’s slow — at least on my modest laptop. Second, it’s variable. Third and most enraging: if I write a long email, like this one, if I go a few paragraphs back to alter some word, the whole text jumps up and down like a demented yoyo, demanding endless scrolling-down and making coherent writing almost impossible.
The system calls exchanges of emails “conversations” (and in your inbox/sent lists adds the first few words of each message after its subject line — just what you need in an “index”, isn’t it?). Until you disable this novelty, messages turn up all over the place, with the reply space below them. What fun it is to scroll up and down.
As you must also do, endlessly, to get last year’s inbox/ sent lists. Oh, and another change when at last you get there: the dates are American-style — month, day, year. Trivial, but... Did no one tell the geeks in California that the rest of the world writes differently?
Root around in http://yahoo.uservoice.com/forums/215446 and you’ll find savage comments on more. Sure, change brings problems, and its always the discontented who shout. But in a long life, including 14 years of business journalism, I’ve never seen a new product so fiercely, and unanimously, trashed. I don’t blame the geeks. Maybe they’re recent teenagers who’ve never used any screen bigger than a smartphone’s. But who specified, who accepted their design — and rammed it, without warning, down our throats? If I were Yahoo’s managers, I’d be reading the many users’ threats of a move to Gmail, and shaking at my screen.
Or do Yahoo’s bosses use pigeon post?