Confounded New World

Borrowed from clipartbest.com.

Once upon a time, back when the world made a little more sense to me, I signed the shop up for an online back-up service called Carbonite. It seemed like a reasonable precaution.

Less than two months later, our graphic designer of the time, Rachelle, was having trouble with her computer and she ended up on the phone with some overly self-assured Hewlitt-Packard technician halfway around the world. He suggested she follow some command.

“It says that will erase everything,” she reported. “Yes, go ahead please,” he said. She argued with him, several times, but he was insistent that this would be fine.

It wasn’t. His command, from halfway around the world, wiped out everything on the computer. Everything. He offered to send a disc with a new operating system on it, that’s how wiped out we were. I don’t buy HP products anymore.

But I do buy Carbonite. Once we got a replacement operating system and our programs re-installed, Rachelle asked for a Carbonite restore and got everything back except one font. What would have been complete disaster — all our art files gone — was rescued by this company, for some extremely reasonable price.

The price has gone up and the options have changed over the years, but I continue to buy Carbonite. And, as of the last time I called, the phone is answered promptly by a live human being who lives somewhere in the United States. To a person, they’ve all known what they’re talking about, too, and they’ve always been helpful.

So I’m a loyal Carbonite customer. But as prices go up and their products become a bit murkier, and mostly, the world becomes more complicated, I’m no longer clear on a welter of products that all seem to overlap and what it is I need.

We also, at the shop, have been longtime Norton customers for virus protection, and, like everyone these days seeking virus protection, subject to the microchips installed by Bill Gates, this time in the form of ubiquitous Microsoft programs. Our e-mail and the calendar without which we can’t function come from Google.

But now the lines are blurring between all these products, all of them but Carbonite offered by huge peopleless corporations that you just flat-out can’t communicate with. As someone who understands technology less by the day, I am starting to find this very frustrating, particularly as each company starts raising prices while simultaneously offering expanded services I don’t particularly want or think I need.

For instance, the other day on my work e-mail, which is provided by Google, I got a notice that my “Google Workspace” account will no longer be offered for free. No other G-mail account I’m affiliated with appears to have received this notice, so I’m not sure why this one drew the lucky straw, but if I don’t pay up by July 1, it sounds as though I’m out my business e-mail.

Kara looked up Google Workspace pricing, and the lowest tier is $6 per month per user. With this I get “custom and secure business e-mail,” “security and management controls,” and “standard support,” which is Googlespeak for: You can talk to our robot, which isn’t nearly as intuitive as you would expect a tech company’s robot to be and which will only function in a spiral so frustrating that you will never ask us for assistance again, but we don’t care because we know you need our product and will keep using it, no matter what we charge.

At this most basic level I will also get “100 participant meetings” without clarifying whether that’s per month or year but it hardly matters because I don’t even need one, and “30 GB cloud storage per user.”

And that is the real crux of my problem. Microsoft, which used to offer a suite of office products I more or less understood how to use — at least, enough for my purposes — has refined its product right out of comprehension. It is no longer Microsoft Office, it is Microsoft 365, except that their database program, Access, appears to be mostly inaccessible (certainly so on a network) and everything on my desktop, whether I want it to be or not, can be viewed by Kara on her computer.

As part of 365, Microsoft offers One Drive, which appears to be cloud storage as well as a means of sharing files, even though Kara can see things I didn’t put in One Drive so I’m not sure why I would bother with One Drive. Just this morning Norton started backing up all my files here at home, I believe as part of their “ransomware protection.”

Perhaps storing my files in multiple fluffy clouds is not a bad thing, although I can’t help but think that also gives those dark web villains that many more chances to access my life, given the great importance of the revised Pat’s Screen Printing paid leave policy as dictated by new state law.

When I got a new work computer last year — and this still creeps me out, no matter how convenient it was — pretty much all I did was turn it on, and Microsoft repopulated most of my files from the old computer. How it knew which computer to pull them from I don’t know, since my new computer greets me every morning with “Welcome, Kara,” and it didn’t really put them on the computer: it left them in the cloud but gave me a point of access from the computer. Until I looked it up and discovered how to tell said computer to put copies of the files on the drive. I think that’s what I did, anyway.

So why am I spending all this money on what seems these days to largely amount to duplication? That’s a genuine question, not a rhetorical one, but I don’t understand enough about what I’ve just said to come up with an answer for myself.

We’re already using a Google spreadsheet in lieu of the Microsoft database, because I can input screens at my desk, which ever since we went 365 I’ve been unable to do in Microsoft — although a database and a spreadsheet aren’t really the same thing.

I imagine maybe Microsoft offers some sort of e-mail option, but I don’t know about virus protection, so I probably still need Norton, even though we have two subscriptions because each one only used to cover three computers. Now it covers five each, and somewhere in there, without my input, Norton decided to protect Kara’s computer (her real one, not the laptop I now use in her name) once on each subscription.

Probably the one program we no longer need is Carbonite, which I don’t think has branched out into e-mail or virus protection, spreadsheets or video meetings. I don’t understand at all the difference between “cloud storage” and “remote back-up,” so maybe I do still need Carbonite.

The real reason to keep it would be for the one thing none of these other mega-companies are ever going to offer, are never going to consider offering, would never, in their tech-addled brains, see as necessary: when something goes wrong, as it will, I can contact an actual human being at Carbonite, one who is not only pleasant but also helpful.

That seems worth the money right there, as I flounder along in this brave new world that makes absolutely no sense to me.

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