New complexities as a consequence of deeper digital engagement

Like many people, I’m deeply reliant on the internet. Having grown up with it over the years, I’ve transferred more and more of my offline life, online. This shift has largely been driven by convenience and I absolutely believe I can get more done online, especially with my smartphone, than I could offline. However, as this has been a gradual migration, I have not, until now, noticed the inherent inefficiencies of doing ‘stuff’ online. Using the internet should be far more convenient and manageable than it currently is. It’s only when I stepped back and evaluated my own online behaviours that this became evident. Here are my biggest gripes with using the internet today:

  • My top frustration with using the internet is the overwhelming number of online accounts I have (115 in total) and as a result the volume of passwords I have to remember. This has been widely recognised as a problem for a long time but there’s still no easy way of managing this. The biggest surprise here was how many online accounts I had and how many I had forgotten about. I re-discovered many forgotten services by filing through the depths of my email account and checking my web browser’s saved passwords setting.
  • Social networks offer a solution to this with federated log-ins, but I try to avoid them. I simply don’t trust how my personal data is being shared between the services and third parties.
  • The volume of social networks I have to belong to in order to stay in touch with my various social groups. I really value the nuanced differences between the network providers, but I don’t understand why they don’t speak to each other like the wide variety of webmail services do.
  • Managing basic services like contacts and calendars is really difficult if you have more than one service that requires these features – which I do. I cannot find an easy solution to keep all my calendars and contacts in one place so they are accessible on any device and any service that I use. Managing this manually takes up a lot of time.
  • Moving house is a real pain in the real world; I don’t know anyone who relishes the prospect of going through the process. Once the stress of moving is over, many of my 115 digital accounts require my new address, a daunting prospect. It takes a good few hours to figure out who needs this information and provide them with an update. This task is elongated with difficulties remembering my password. For services like my energy supplier or mobile phone provider, I have little need to interact with them in between contract renewals so why would I remember my password?
  • The difficulty in closing many online accounts. The 115 accounts I have is what I was left with once I had closed 37 dormant or unwanted accounts. Closing many of these accounts was very difficult and required numerous emails or worse phone calls.
  • Furthermore, I closed some accounts where I had received excellent service and would definitely use again, but the product was so niche I can’t imagine I would purchase something similar again in the future. It’s a shame I cannot file these vendors in a system for future reference (where they don’t retain any of my sensitive information) and where I can recommend them to friends looking for their services. This would be a big boost to small businesses!
  • In a few cases I felt completely strong-armed by the vendor as they had written into their T&Cs unreasonable policies. These extreme examples were uncommon but the two that angered me most and negatively impacted my perception of the vendor and willingness to deal with them again, were: Direct Line, charged me £15 pounds to change my address! And Starbucks, who refused to close my account I no longer use!
  • Finally, the internet is so noisy! I’m fairly sure that if there were less adverts and fewer people vying for my attention, I would be less distracted and get things done much quicker. (Nicholas Carr, has written an excellent book called “The Shallows” about the impact of the Internet, as a medium, on our minds)

This is not meant to be a rant, just a personal reflection on the inefficiencies of using the internet. I learnt a lot about the pain points of using the internet and managing the vast amount of relationships (social and business related) I have online. There’s still much work to do to make the individual experience a much simpler and convenient one. There are lots of people and organisations working on these very problems. Indeed, I have worked with some of them trying to solve them.

One thing is for sure, having gone through this experience, I am even more convinced that the shift to a more customer centric, personal information economy is ever more likely.

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