The Tower of Bapple

3 June 2017

My grandfather bought a Model T Ford in the 1920s, and my mother reported that when they took their usual Sunday drive, he had to be able to fix just about everything. This was not a user-friendly technology.

Today I get into my car, turn the key, and drive away. Nothing to fix, happily, because while I may be trained as a mechanical engineer, I don’t have a clue what’s going on under the hood (except theoretically). This is a user-friendly technology.

I was named after my grandfather, but I did not follow in his footsteps. I used to be a techno-Peasant. My phone was a hand-me-down, two generations earlier, from my cousin. I never even learned how to get voice mail. But then I bought an iPhone, and became a Techno-PhonePhile! I discovered what a spectacular piece of consumer technology this is, without a doubt the greatest one ever.

You see, all the others did one thing. The wheel carried loads, the printing press propagated books, the automobile took us places, the telephone brought in distant voices and television added images. The iPhone does just about everything. It is:

a dictionary
a thesaurus
an encyclopedia
a telephone
a tape recorder
a TV
a calculator
a calendar
a camera
a low-fi hi-fi
photo albums
a clock
a watch
a flashlight
a mirror
a copy editor
a dictation secretary
a translator
a safety deposit box (for passwords)
a compass
a level
a bicycle speedometer
a beacon (to find itself)
a surveillance device (for others to find you)
the game room
a mosquito and even polar bear repellent¹

Ah, but is it user-friendly? Hardly more than that Model T.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there….

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth….

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” …it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

True the iPhone has one language and a common speech, albeit scattered over the face of the whole earth. But the Lord is still hard at work, confusing that language. Welcome to the Tower of Bapple.

Do you realize how many instructions we have to know to maneuver minimally through this tower? Must be hundreds. To maneuver fully? I’ll bet thousands. To maneuver competently? Zillions. Look, I have a PhD from MIT. How do PhDs from Harvard cope?

How many ways don’t you know to delete something on your phone? Slide left, slide right, scroll up, scroll down, hit something somewhere, in fact anything everywhere…in desperation. Sure I like to collect things. But not delete-directives. To accept something looks to be easier: just hit the place on the upper right where it says “done”. Except on my calendar. When I change something, in place of “done” on the upper right, there appears “cancel”. But I don’t expect it, so I hit that place anyway, and lose what I just did. The second time around, I do find “done”, on the lower right. I hit that, and guess what? “Done” appears again for the hitting: now on the upper right! This technology is user-ferocious. 

On that calendar, I wish to know the holidays. No problem; I programmed it for Canada, where I live. This is what appeared on August 1 (and I kid you not).
1. British Columbia Day (British Columbia)
2. Civic/Provincial Day (regional holiday)
3. New Brunswick Day (New Brunswick)
4. Natal Day (Prince Edward Island)
5. Heritage Day in Alberta
6. Terry Fox Day (Manitoba)
7. Saskatchewan Day
8. Natal Day [again, this time in] (Nova Scotia)
9. Civic/Provincial Day [this time in Nunavik, Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island, and Ontario]
10. Clean the Chimney Day. (OK, here I kid you yes: I had added this one myself.)

It’s all or nothing for this calendar. I just want to know on which date certain important holidays fall—like New Year’s Day. (I’m told it’s January 1, but in this age of Bapple, you never know.) But no, I must have Natal Day twice and Saskatchewan day once. etc. OK, so this is a Google Calendar: should I blame Apple for that? Absolutely, because of the company this company keeps in their common Tower of Bapple.

Passwords, boy do I have passwords. Actually I have only one, the Master Password. It opens the door to the 55 others. (Yes, fifty-five.) Imagine your car requiring separate keys to open each of the doors and windows, for each of the gears and windshield wipers, to fill each of the tires, to access AM and FM, etc. I received this message recently: “Installer is trying to install new software. Enter your password to install this. User name: Henry Mintzberg” Hey, Installer, Henry Mintzberg has 55 passwords! I would be delighted to have only one password, but in this tower, some passwords require a cAp, and others DoN’T; some need numb0rs (#%&%#), and others don’t; some require eigth8 letters with a number and others require eightxx letters with no number. Constructing that old tower must have been like building a sand castle compared with our tower today.

iOS. I shudder at these letters. Every time I install a new one, back I must go to fix all kinds of settings that Bapple has screwed up, with uninvited banners and bantering appearing all over my eyes and ears. When I installed a new iOS a few years ago, I lost all my contacts--forever. Someone said that this iOS was designed for a 6, and I had a 5. The nerve of me. (Why did I hit “done” when I should have hit “cancel”—everywhere, always.) Yet not a peep from Apple, hiding behind its own tower in California. Hey, the Bible never said anything about having to change the mortar in that tower every few weeks, let alone with a kind that brings down half the structure. Simon has been my trusty TWOG teammate. Simon says—so it must be true—that his productivity is suffering from having to learn so many new productivity tools. (Did you know that “empathetic engineer” is an oxymoron?)

STOP the presses, or at least hold the electrons. Marley, the daughter of my cousin, showed me a major discovery. He was trying to talk, and she turned his phone up-side down. Have you noticed all the people who speak on the phone as if the LOUDspeaker is off, when actually it’s on. (You have certainly HEARD these people.) They need to turn their phones upside-down, because now the speaker is at the bottom, not the top. Imagine if those biblical builders had started upside-down: built their tower from the top, heaven2earth. The Lord, close by, might have HEARD a different message. Who knows, they might have finished the tower and now we’d all be speaking the same language—hopefully not Bapple.

Now, DA DAM, here comes Siri, the Goddess up to whom this terrifying tower is being built. Siri in the sky with data. She actually speaks in only one language, at least at a time. This is particularly evident here in Montreal, where Siri fractures French names as never before.

The fact is that I love Siri, although not in the usual Internet way. That kind of love I could have saved for the Facebook friends I cannot have, the LinkedIn contacts I cannot con, because I never have time in this tower for anything human—which I am told still exists out there.

Siri can, however, be sheer entertainment. Once Laura, my granddaughter, was playing with my phone, and told Siri to stop calling her “Henry,” “My name is Laura, not Henry”, she said in terms so certain that my email started to come addressed to “Laura”. So I pushed Siri’s button and said: “My name is Henry, not Siri.” (I meant to say “not Laura”, but it was too late.) She asked me amiably to confirm that henceforth I was to be called Henry not Siri, which I did, and she replied promptly: “OK, what can I do for you now, Henry not Siri?” Who needs satire when we’ve got Siri?

Look, it’s not all that bad. Wheels make ruts, books foment revolutions, cars trigger rage, telephones distract and television dumbs down. This user-ferocious technology merely drives us customer-crazy. A small price to pay for its wonders. Except that, while I have a day job that pays the rent, Bapple is a full-time job that pays nothing. I checked my contract with the phone company. Not a word about having to be a prisoner in a tower, let alone with the only maiden out of sight being Siri in the sky.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. My thanks to Simon for managing these TWOGs so well for so long, and welcome to Tanya for picking up the torch. A special thank you for Leslie also, to whom I turn for all these problems. Her shift ends each day at 11:59 pm and begins again at 6:01 am. I pay her Bapple rates.


¹There are apps that emit some ultrasonic thing, supposedly to keep away mosquitos. (Several reviews say it doesn’t work.) And when a woman was attacked by a polar bear near Churchill, Manitoba a few years ago, she held up her phone to it and it ran away. Wouldn’t you?

© Henry Mintzberg 2017

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