Yes this is my first 2012 post, I have a lot of catch up to do, not that I have been out of stories to tell but I just didn’t have the time to tell them right. I hope I’ll be able in another post to give an update on what I have been up to. But for now let’s throw this story out there before all the rest of my pile of untold stories, because this one is fresh and goldmine.
After 1 hour
So I went through with her with all the installation of the JVM from Oracle, reassuring her at every step that it was ok. I realized the basics of UI were completely unknown to her. First she didn’t know where the downloaded file went, she didn’t know what it was really to download, and I couldn’t guide her because I don’t have the same interface as her. Even if I told her to look for a menu, she didn’t see what I meant at all. Then during the installation, the installation wizard vanished, and reappeared again (?!). She complained that she had the impression of clicking yes to everything without really knowing what she was agreeing to. UI is definitely not a given. But anyway, the most important thing in the end was: “Java is successfully installed !” Yay! Trying to guide someone in blind mode is really something crazy to do, I was completely losing my patience, but as I said the most important thing was : “Java is successfully installed !” Finally.
IE the savior
Then the website told her to restart the browser, but I told her it wouldn’t work, she’d have to restart her computer. She tried anyway, to see what happens. It didn’t work. So while she was restarting her computer I had the time to take a shower, and 15min later, I came back and I found her hysterically happy, “Something has changed ! Now it says that java is ok but now I need google chrome 17 or 18, and mine is 19 so I didn’t follow their link because isn’t that downgrading? What shoud I do?”
Wow. So many efforts to promote progressive enhancement completely wiped out by this crappy website. I didn’t know that it was possible to support old browsers but not new ones, it goes against any current modern development trends. Why?! Normally progressive enhancement is the fact of making sure the basic features of your website work with the minimum, and then enrich the features as the browser gets more functionalities. So if you have the maximum of functionalities, logically the basic features should work, but not for this crappy website which probably didn’t evolve since…years ago. So : I pulled out the IE card again. And guess what ?! IT WORKED !!!!!!!!! My mom read “The online voting portal is open !!!!!!!!!!!!” Oh my goodness, I was assisting in live video to my mom voting for the first time of her life online. History. It was like being with her in the voting booth. Then she described her experience to me. There was a list with all the candidates, she clicked on her candidate, then she clicked “Vote”, it asked her again if she wanted to vote for that candidate, warning her that the vote would then be counted, she clicked again, and done. Always good to know. She was completely exulting. A big task had just been completed.
It was a last minute vote because the online voting system will close on Tuesday and she is going on holiday tomorrow with no access to the Internet. But not to worry, the State is not stupid, of course you can still physically vote later in case you haven’t voted online. At the end, my mom printed the receipt of the vote proving she had voted. I asked her if the name of the candidate was on the receipt, but no, it was not. She said “this will be a proof that I did vote”, right, but for who? we’ll never really know, with their crappy website, who knows what can happen with the data. Anyway, my mom finally explained to me that she wanted to try the online voting to see if it was worthy, just to try, well now she knows. And me too.
Now imagine that scenario for millions of citizens. Errr. Sane people would quickly give up, not everyone is used to technology especially if the UI is bad. And when you’re with your computer, there is no one to help you, the devs are not there to welcome you and tell you what to do.
Epilogue : Technology is not democratic
I tend to be very optimistic about technology and see it as the solution to every problem, but let’s hope it doesn’t get too far in politics because that would be completely anti-democratic. I always wonder who are those people who never update their browsers and why I should care about older browsers, but, yep those people are my mom, she probably won’t update alone her browser until I do it for her. And it’s probably the case of other people.
Technology is not natural ! It seems natural for those who were lucky to grow up with it, but sooner or later, the people that are now at ease with technology, will be the ones completely lost with the technology coming after them. So it’s very difficult to imagine a democratic political system that would completely rely on technology, even if the temptation to transfer everything to technology is greater and greater. Technology is anti-democratic. It can definitely improve things, it’s fundamentally an “improver” but it should never be the only way to do things. There should always be other ways for people who don’t know how to use it. It’s tempting to make the online voting the only and standard way, but honestly when you see how it’s done…errr, no please no.
The efficient technology has not yet reached State administrative applications, but even if it had, it shouldn’t be the only way. Install a JVM to vote, can you believe it ?! Why not ask to run some shell commands first, and then allow to vote in a one command line $ vote -y Indianah Jones. Haaa. I understand it better now, not everyone is at ease with technology. That’s why even though technology seems to me like the first and foremost tool for freedom, it’s not democratic. Indeed not everyone gets the UI, not everyone can interact with it, and not everyone can have it. The big trend right now is to develop hipsterish apps fundamentally useless but cool and efficient. But what about public service, huh ? No one there for the useful and needed stuff. It’s very difficult to include all the possible cases of everyone when implementing technology for public services, it’s a huge technical task. As a result the public service is left with crappy websites from…? oh right, years ago. However, if the voting was as quick as 2 or 3 clicks, I wonder if the experience would still be serious to us. Technology applied to politics… It kind of spooks me a little bit.
PS : Happy new year !