Automation and increasing abstraction are what computers are all about. But when does mysterious convenience get creepy and out of control?

Mysterious Convenience

It all started, most recently, with our Charlotte Henry’s report.

This struck a chord with me. That’s because, I believe, computer users are naturally process oriented. That is, action A begets result B. In turn, related action C begets desired, final result D. If we understand the implications of each successive action in a sequence, we get where we want to be with confidence in the result.

But that process can be tedious and is often ripe for abstraction for the sake of convenience. After years of tedium, Apple often figures out a better, easier way to get to the desired result. (A good example is iOS shortcuts. But, there, at least, we as users define the process to our own satisfaction.)

When Apple invokes a mysterious sequence of automation or abstraction for us, we are, at first, taken aback. It’s convenient to be sure, but some may feel as if they’ve lost awareness and control of the process. There may even be competitive or security implications.

I call this mysterious convenience. And Apple is very good at it.

Trade-offs

Security practices are often a trade-off between convenience and absolute protection. Similarly, mysterious convenience. is often a trade-off between understanding and speed of the result. That is, what we lose in understanding, we gain in convenience. The key question, of course, is it too creepy? Is it truly smart? Does it lead to unintended consequences or does it make our lives truly better—without drawbacks?

One example is AirDrop. AirDrop is an incredibly convenient way to move files from Apple device to device. However, I am told by government security gurus, it does not log the origin of a received file. So AirDrop is disabled by some government agencies on their Macs for the sake of security. AirDrop invokes mysterious convenience.

Happy-go-lucky

All too often, Apple has, for understandable reasons, a markedly enthusiastic approach to its mysterious conveniences. that some professionals find unnerving. Naturally, Apple wants us to use its new conveniences, but it’s also up to the users to indicate to Apple when it has gone overboard and lured us into possible, dangerous inattentions.

In the case of redirecting a searched link to Apple News+, conveniently bypassing a paywall, the jury remains out in my view. It’s vaguely unnerving, feels creepy and self-serving, but also a rather sensible handling of a paywall in the face of an existing subscription.

The real danger is that in the eternal quest for new features in Apple’s OSes, the focus becomes prioritized to Apple services revenue rather than new, brilliant, pleasing facilities for operating our devices.

In the worst case, there is a repetition of Microsoftian madness from the olden days and a cynical loss in our confidence in Apple.

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wab95

John:   Brilliant terminology, mysterious convenience. It pairs nicely with ‘automagically’.    It also, for those of us familiar with Arthur Clarke’s third law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, a potentially unnerving reminder that the pace of advancement of our digital technology is vastly outpacing the capacity of any one person to keep proficiently current with all of it, with the result that an increasing proportion of it is ‘magical’.    That said, this is where a tech company’s (whether tech giant or tech minnow) chief asset is the trust invested in it by the community of… Read more »

wab95