Presumptuous Computing – A Trend to Reverse

Over the past few years, I’ve grown to feel that my computer has become a crowded house full of guests and strangers, as lots software and services have invited themselves for a long stay. Some are gracious and helpful, mindful that I did not invite them. Some jump up and demand my attention. Some are unruly and leave their dirty dishes and coffee cups all over my computer. And at least one (the trial version of McAfee’s antivirus program that I can’t get fully uninstalled, you know who you are) is like the unwelcome guest who will never leave.
Increasingly, we all see a trend where our programs, services and subscriptions do more things automatically and take for granted what they can do on our computers. In some cases, I don’t mind at all. I like automatic updates, especially for security fixes. In other cases, I’m starting to feel that software companies, email newsletter publishers, and other service providers are starting to forget who is the host and who is the guest on my computer. You might be feeling the same.
I’m calling this phenomenon and trend “presumptuous computing.”
There’s a presumptive, condescending approach to users that’s becoming too common, and a general approach that it’s OK for programs to do what they please on computers without considering the host, without picking up after their messes, and without making their beds and hanging up the towels, let alone compensating us for our generosity and for the inconvenience they cause.
A few examples:
Yesterday, I saw that someone presumptively subscribed me to their email newsletter on a topic that actually interested me. Today, I learned that it’s a DAILY newsletter. Repeat after me: “opt-in, not opt-out.” It’s worse when someone you know does this to you with their newsletter.
iTunes is about drive me crazy. The scariest message that I get on my computer these days is that there is a new version of iTunes and would I like to install it? The “improvements” always disrupt my ways of organizing and handling my files, although they seem to make it much easier if you only use the iTunes store. This is one of the only programs I’ve decided not to stay current on updates. This morning iTunes decided that I must have wanted to uncheck every audio file in my library – and it left me with no undo option or an easy way to figure out how to recheck them. Since I had it set up only to sync checked songs to my iPod, this is a bit of an inconvenience since I’m not a John Cage 4′ 33″ fan.
How about that Zone Alarm? Do you want to install now or would you like a reminder? Oh, the only option on the reminder is one day. Yes, keep pestering me every day.
I really like Firefox, especially the extensions. I really don’t like the way updates seem to always break my favorite extensions.
And, no, I just want to update the Java Runtime Environment, not to also intall Google Desktop Search.
And for those programs that cleverly set up checkbox options so I accidentally install things I don’t want to or put icons all over my computer desktop, ask yourself if you would really want to do business with people who need to trick you into using their products.
Having recently spent some time with only a dial-up connection, I implore people, especially vendors and PR people sending me information about products and services (especially while I’m visiting my parents), to think twice before sending 5 and 10 megabyte attachments. These take hours to download on a dial-up connection and block access to later-received emails. If you send large PDFs, you should become very familiar with techniques to reduce file sizes. I recently slimmed down some large PDF files I had received simply by using the “reduce file size” feature in Adobe Acrobat and some files ended up to be 10% or less of the size at which they were originally sent to me.
If you’ve ever looked at the size of Mac OS updates, you’ll realize that you must be on a broadband connection to download and install updates – they are huge.
In the presumptuous computing trend, someone is making assumptions about my computer and how I use it, and then presumptuously taking actions on my own computer. I’m sure that you have several examples of your own.
Ah, but what prompted this post was what happened to me this morning after another Windows update. First of all, I’m a big believer in automatic updates for Windows for security reasons, so I have no complaint about that and willingly invite Windows in to do the updates. However, Windows makes me feel like it came in, drank the beer out of the refrigerator, and tossed beer cans all over the yard.
Here’s the story. I had a number of things I wanted to do early this morning. I got everything ready and even had the email I needed to reply to on the screen of my computer. I then put the computer in the standby mode (think green legal technology and saving power).
This morning, I found that the Windows had updated itself (good thing) and, since it required a restart to complete the installation, it had rebooted itself (not so good a thing for me today). As a result, everything I had planned to work on was closed. But, it gets worse. When I started Outlook, it noted that it had been improperly shut down and needed to check my PST file. Word gave me a screen with the documents it had recovered because of an improper shutdown. Feedburner reverted to an earlier state and all of the posts I had read last night were now marked as unread. You get the picture. Hey, but 15 or 20 minutes later, I was able to jump right in where I planned to have started first thing in the morning. And I had the idea for this post. And, then, I unchecked all the songs in iTunes.
What irritates me about the Windows thing is that if it is going to force a reboot, it should at least properly close out of Microsoft programs. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
Presumptuous computing – treating someone else’s computer like you know what’s best for them and not giving any consideration to how they might like to use their computer.
Think about it. Shouldn’t those who invite themselves onto your computer be good and respectful guests and be reluctant to come in and change things around, especially without giving you any warning. I don’t expect vendors to be able to get everything right – this stuff is complicated – and the benefits for me of automatic updates and the like outweigh the disadvantages, but it’d sure be nice if we were all more thoughtful in the way we treat other people’s computers. I’d like to see more courteous computing and less presumptuous computing.
Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (]
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  1. Christopher Gee says

    I couldn’t agree more. Particularly aggravating is when you tell Window’s Update to “reboot later”. If you leave the computer unattended, it will reboot anyway, How rude!!

  2. says

    I typically leave my computer on overnight, too, often leaving it with the things I need to work on the next day. I share your pain as I came in one morning this week to see the default pre-login screen saver. Of course, I got the little balloon on the task bar that politely told me that my computer installed an update that required re-booting. At least Firefox was kind enough to ask me if I wanted to restore my previous session or start a new one.
    I guess that’s what we get for planning ahead. How dare we!?!