Software Updates are Hell

The last week has been an inferno of sizzlingly slow downloads, agonizing loading bars, and the endless torture of researching how to adapt to ‘things that have changed’ for no obviously good reason. 

With little to do in pandemic lockdown, the time was right to update all my devices, operating systems, apps and all. I’ve couldn’t help but notice that I passed through experiences that I could dramatically liken to Dante’s circles of hell1. I’ve indicated the torment I imagined in brackets after each experience. 

In the first stage of the process, I suffered:

  • the emotional rollercoaster of ’22 hours to download’ which toggles to 10, 12, 9 and then 4 hours before a real countdown began, to the ‘almost done’ message that sends shivers of joy, only to be replaced by a message that it will take 1.5 hours to install the downloaded update (limbo)
  • once I’d started, I couldn’t get enough – I sought updates to every app and felt a little disappointed when I found ones that were up to date (lust)
  • the aggravation of finding enough room to download a major update, only to be told I didn’t have enough room – usually good at math, I can’t figure out how having more than twice available disc space of the size of the download isn’t enough (gluttony)
  • using all the monthly data from my home internet plan in a week (greed)

Eventually all updates were installed and then the real challenges kicked in. Restoring all the disturbed settings. Fortunately, there is help and explanation for most everything on the internet. Still, some of the silliest chores were:

  • convincing apps from competing software developers to play nice together (wrath)
  • fixing several things by power cycling – physically manipulating a device to make the software function feels like beating an intelligent creature into submission rather than reasoning with it (violence)
  • opening windows that can’t be closed – fixed by adjusting the updated screen resolution default (heresy)

At least I convinced my laptop that it wouldn’t die if it printed something, which it’d been sure of since the last OS update. (fraud)

While it is tempting to ignore updates, there is the guilt. You gotta do it for security reasons, even if all that seems to happen is new warthog emojis. And beware idly accepting the reminders from the manufacturer to update, lest surprise setting changes reveal themselves at an inconvenient time. Better to be in control and select ‘update’.

After a few days of settling into the new normal of all devices looking just a little weird but working ok, I start to relax, thinking it’s over. I’d done something useful to protect myself and stay at the forefront of tech functionality. While I was making bread in the kitchen (pandemic, right?), my iPod starts a lecture on business law, rather than playing the calming cords of my favourite metal band. The lecture snuck into my music library, after being shared across several devices which were previously separate. This is my fault, a byproduct of options I’ve chosen. And, I’m stuck because erasing stuff will erase it across all devices now. Arggh. (Treachery)

Software updates are a necessary evil. No one wants a user interface that you can see pixels in, or an operating system that’s so buggy it crashes every half hour, never mind something so insecure it’s tracking every word you speak, every key you stroke, or link you click. 

If we take Dante’s example, he travels through hell and emerges back onto the earth, resuming a reasonably normal life. This happens after software updates. Life goes on. That said, it would be better without the journey to hell and back. Can someone create an app, that never needs updating, to make software updates seamless? 

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1In a famous epic poem, with the title ‘Divine Comedy’ but known to some as Dante’s Inferno, a journey to hell includes passage through nine circles, each associated with a realm of sin. for more details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inferno_(Dante)

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