Information Lifecycle Management

Martin Veitch (Global) - The Travesty of 'Track Changes'

The briefest glance back tells us that human experience in this world has been largely composed of frustration, annoyance, fretting and disappointment that is only accentuated by intermittent, fleeting hope. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” wrote the American transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau, a man so lacking in joie de vivre that even the prospect of living alone in a shed by a lake seemed relatively attractive.

Amazingly, however, he wasn’t talking about Track Changes, the feature in Microsoft Word that is the digital age’s biggest cause of banging one’s head against a brick wall or staring glassy-eyed at an LCD screen waiting impatiently for life to be over. Sooner rather than later, if you please.

Word is a remarkable software program. It has provided the raw ones and zeroes behind most modern literary masterpieces, or at least those written after the early 1990s. It’s flickering white virtual canvas has doubtless given birth to many wonderful ideas, cogent arguments, lines of sympathy, understanding and, yes, love. But Track Changes… oh, you’re a pig.

Let me count the ways I hate you.

First, Track Changes is the favoured tool of jobsworths, pedants and busybodies everywhere. It says: “I may be largely useless at my job and a pretty awful person to boot but this attached document says I have made a token attempt, easily visualised, at ‘adding value’ by glancing at your first draft and making it significantly worse by randomly changing bits and pieces and adding lazy questions where I might quite easily have discovered the answers myself.” Nobody who is a good person has ever thought it wise to indulge in a bout of Track Changes document swapping. Fact.

Second, it leads to acts of senseless desecration. Track Changes is like a swear word in a place of worship. It’s the red-pen scarring that made your heart sink when teacher returned your homework and yet worse. Like a Birmingham road planner’s fantasy, it reduces attractive, formatted documents to the prose equivalent of one-way systems, spaghetti junctions, road works, diversions and hazard signs. It’s an unnecessary eyesore and atrocity.

Third, you need to be a Silicon Valley programmer to work the thing. It’s got more moving parts than a Hadron Collider reverse-engineered by Heath Robinson out of spare parts. It leads to text designed by committee when the committee is composed entirely of the ranks of the semi-literate.

Finally, it’s a silent killer. Like war, the agglomeration of changes, requests, comments and so on always ends in widows and orphans. Unless you have the fine motor skills of a heart surgeon it’s technically impossible not to leave behind a trail of double spaces, newly created compound words and lost clauses. In short, it creates more problems than it solves.

Track Changes then. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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