Even in a tech-hungry era, change can be bad news

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 27, 2013 - 6:50 AM

In the age of digital everything, change and innovation are constant. So why do the slightest tweaks send people into a tizzy?

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The digital world changed — again — and its inhabitants let out a collective social media wail: “RIP Google Reader.”

There were exclamation points, expletives and pleas splattered across the Internet, begging Google not to shut down the RSS service — used by news junkies to gather info from websites and blogs in one place.

“Google is killing Google Reader ... and a little bit of my soul #mustbestopped,” tweeted Lance Ulonoff, editor of the social media news site Mashable.

It’s an online outcry heard whenever Internet giants or popular apps do something different. Facebook introduced its Timeline format in early 2012 and users got riled up. Instagram changed its terms of service in December and faced a social media revolt. Technology is all about innovation, so why does each tweak or termination drive its enthusiasts nuts?

“We are creatures of habit,” said Debra Orbuch Grayson, a marriage and family therapist in Minnetonka who teaches workshops on managing change. “It’s fear — fear that I have to learn something new now.”

Even if a new and better option presents itself, researchers have found, people prefer to stick with what they have known longer.

Maybe that’s why users threw a digital fit about ol’ Google Reader (b. 2005) despite the abundance of free, newer alternatives for aggregating content. (It dies July 1.)

Actually, that online tizzy over Reader is a healthy way to cope with change, Grayson said.

People are acknowledging the switch, realizing the loss of routine and talking to one another about ways to adjust. When Facebook changes profile features, users often share posts — modern-day chain letters of sorts — on how to use the new features or turn them off.

“Even though that was all done online, people were going back and forth,” she said. “That’s a positive step.”

The process for dealing with change is largely the same, whether it’s a big event or a routine adjustment. Focusing on the things people can actually control, with a dose of humor, is helpful, too, she said.

But there’s always a long shot, an act of desperation.

Millions of Instagram users vowed to never again use the photo-sharing social network amid the terms-of-service hullabaloo. Plenty followed through, and Instagram did backpedal a bit.

More than 130,000 people have signed a petition on change.org, asking Google to save Reader, saying: “This is about us using your project because we love it, because it makes our lives better, and because we trust you not to nuke it.”

Google, in a blog post about “spring cleaning,” said it is shutting down Reader because usage has declined and the company wants to focus its resources on fewer products. Many tech observers took that as another attempt to push people toward Google+, the social network that’s not winning many popularity contests.

But Reader enthusiasts came up with their own ideas, once the change-induced panic subsided.

There’s Feedly, a free Web and mobile app that’s picked up more than 500,000 new users since Google revealed its plan to kill Reader. Go figure, Feedly has emphasized that they will make the change as easy as possible, seamlessly incorporating Google Reader RSS feeds as long as people sign up before Reader shuts down.

Other Google Reader replacements, all promising varying degrees of aggregation and visual presentation, include NewsBlur, Flipboard, Netvibes, Pulse and Old Reader. Some say Twitter now works just as well for pointing out the hot topics of the day.

Eventually, all the lovers of RSS feeds will pick one of those options. In the end, Facebook users got so used to the Timeline presentation that it’s hard to remember what profiles looked like before.

Then it will happen all over again.

After all, Grayson said, “Change is inevitable.” Especially on the Internet.

 

Katie Humphrey • 612-673-4758

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