Complexity Ruins Things
A few weeks ago, my friend, Fred, gave me a generous gift—his old Xbox One. It was given to me so that I could join him and another friend online to play games and talk on Sunday evenings. This was a great gift because I love my friends and video games. I was humbled and grateful for the gift, and I decided to set up the console over a recent staycation from work.
First, before I could do anything, I had to wipe the console of Fred’s information. Before I did that, however, the console required me to be connected to the Internet, so I added it to my network. I tried to wipe the console again, but no dice: Before I could erase it, I had to apply an update, and the system would not let me bypass this step. Okay, fine, I did the update.
Forty minutes later, I had to add my own account. Next, I had to load the game my friends wanted me to play. Inexplicably, the console requires you to load the entire content of a disc to the console before you can do anything, and another seventy-five minutes was consumed before I was ready to play … or so I thought. “In order to play this game, you must create an Ubisoft account.” Now, let me say clearly that games for me are a way to escape for a while, like reading. I don’t want to join an online reading group any more than an online gaming group, but the software provider holds you hostage: You must create the account to play the game. Fine, I’d already bought the game, so why not? Then, once the account was created, the game informed me that I must always be connected to the Internet and the game cannot be played otherwise. Why? I don’t want to be online, but I pressed ahead despite myself, growing more frustrated with each step. For one hour, I played the game, and finally, exhausted from hours of prep in order to play a game for 60 minutes, I shut everything down and went to bed.
The next morning, as I was on vacation, I decided to play the game. The Ubisoft servers were down, and since they require you to be connected to the Internet to play, I was unable to access the game despite having paid for and loaded it. This lasted a day, so I contacted customer support. The reply I received was a manual on how to adjust my network to play a game, including lowering security settings to allow for multiplayer services that I did not want to use. Frustrated, I wiped the console again, deleted the game account, and returned the XBox to my friend. Sometimes free gifts are just too costly.
The thing is, it isn’t just video games that are too complex these days. A conversation at lunch today found coworkers complaining about how confusing their cars can be. Buy a new TV or computer, and you have to spend hours figuring out how it works. Even when it comes to passive media like TV, how many graphics, scrolling banners and sidebars can a network cram onto the screen? Technology is wonderful, but the contemporary complexity of devices can be daunting, and it impedes our ability to fully engage the world around us.
None of us can fully unplug, but it seems good to at least start questioning how complex our lives need to be and what effect technology has on our happiness. I like that my car, for example, will stop if I don’t react quickly enough, but I don’t need to waste hours navigating a video game console because a software company wants to force me to play online when I don’t want to. My time is too important, and my life is already complex enough. Perhaps it’s time for me to return a few other gifts that seek to pull me away from what really matters.
“Hey, Siri, do I have any other complex gadgets that I don’t need?”
Well, I guess I’m a work in progress.