Suppose you bought a new car

Car 7.0 looks sleek, powerful, and economical on the showroom floor. Then you get inside it. You’re trading in your Car 6.9 because Car 7.0 is “improved.” After searching around for the speedometer for a while, you locate it on the passenger side of the dash. The gearshift lever is now in the door and the door-opener is in the middle of the steering wheel. But it’s chrome now instead of being black plastic so it looks much nicer.

The accelerator is somewhere but you have to look for it and it doesn’t look like an accelerator anymore. The headlight switch is now above your head and you have to be sure you don’t confuse it with the automatic trunk lid opener. The windshield wiper controls have been shifted to the side of your seat, and the seat adjustments now are on the center console.

In Car 6.9, you just got in, stuck in the key, and fired it up.

But in Car 7.0, you have to turn on the electrical system, push a button to start the fuel pump, twist a knob to enable the spark plugs to fire, and then turn a key and push a starter button. Twice.

You sit in the driver’s seat and you wonder why in the name of God did the people who built this car make all these changes that make absolutely no sense. The answer is simple. Because they could. They’re people who love to create gadgets even if the processes to make them work screws up a perfectly good existing system. Instead of just adding some simply-operated buttons to handle any additional features in the car (the automatic carpet vacuum, a gauge that makes sure the hard rubber doughnut of a spare tire has not deteriorated because it’s been in the trunk for ten years, an idiot light that tells you the GPS is on, and similar new features) they’ve decided everything has to be changed. Something that worked perfectly well has to be made more complicated because this is the new version. Forget user friendliness or familiarity. “We’re the nerds of newness and we like to do new stuff and change things that don’t need to be changed because we can,” they seem to say, smugly.

“If we didn’t make arbitrary changes in Car 7.0 we wouldn’t be justifying our existence. So what if the driver has to spend few angry days learning things he shouldn’t have to learn?  “Owner’s manual? Sorry. You’ll have to download the owner’s manual on your cell phone if you want to know what all these new features do. And we’ve done our best to either write the manual in such a way that only we can really understand it or we’ve provided an owner’s manual with drawings that make everything so stupid that a reasonably sentient being can’t figure out what in the world the pictures mean. And, besides, it’s unrealistic to think that you should be able to get in a car, start it, and drive away. You should spend a day or two learning how we’ve complicated everything. We worked for two years to screw up your life. You should be grateful.”

Thank the Lord the people who provided the software for the new computers in the Missourinet newsroom don’t design cars.

Confessions of an iNerd

Roger Fidler invented the first e-reader prototype in 1991 when Internet sources were still not allowed for term papers, and anyone with a computer in their dorm room was probably rich.

He’s now with the Reynold’s Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. I talked with him about the iPad, e-readers, how they’re changing news consumption and more. AUDIO: Interview with Roger Fidler (17 min)

Before you listen to the interview, I have a few confessions:

Confession No. 1 — I used to work in newspaper. MacIntosh has always been the leader in graphic design, pagination and layout. Even in my high school newspaper class, we worked on a Mac Plus with that one wondrously huge megabyte of RAM. (I find I’m still compelled to repeatedly hit “apple S” so I don’t lose my work.) So I’ve always been sort of a self-proclaimed Mac snob, declaring them superior to PCs to any reporter that would argue otherwise. Now, Macbook, iPod and iPhone equipped for a while now, I am the proud new owner of an iPad.

Confession No. 2 — It’s a great new toy. I’d like to say I’m using my iPad as a portal of information … for effect, I’ll even point to the entire screen of apps leading to various news and sports outlets. I’ll point to another screen with Flipboard, Facebook, Twitter and Craigslist to prove it’s bar-none when it comes to social networking. But the truth is, just as often, I’m playing with my Pocket Frogs, Solitaire, enjoying Tom Waits radio on Pandora or downloading a movie from Netflix to watch in bed.

Confession No. 3 — More is better. I’m quite positive I’ve downloaded enough apps in the past week to keep anyone occupied for years, but I … want … more. I want to have so many apps that I have to type in a search just to find which one I’m looking for. I’ve downloaded ones I’m not even sure I want, or will ever use. (If they’re free, that is.) There are a ton of entertainment / game apps out there, half of which are pretty much crap. I should probably choose more wisely, but if I don’t like it or don’t use it, I can always just delete it. (That’s right Finger Goalie, I’m looking at you.)

Confession No. 4 — The world needs to catch up. I’d like to download an audio editing app so I can cut sound for radio on the fly, but at a minimum of $20, I’m hesitant to pay for an app without trying it first. I would also like to read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch or the Kansas City Star instead of the Washington Post or USA Today, but they’re just not there … yet. Not to mention a Missourinet app, right? But how we would lay it out; what would it offer that our webpage doesn’t? If you’re an iNerd, I mean, iPad user too, let me know what you think. Would you get a Missourinet app for news, sports and weather? Or would you be too busy playing Angry Birds?

AUDIO: Interview with Roger Fidler (17 min)