Johan wrote this
@ 2024-02-28


My tech posts often come from kind of a negative place. I wish it wasn’t like that, but we all know how the mind works: writing with nuance and positivity is a lot harder than fired-up screeds of the “someone is wrong on the Internet” variety. I do try to check myself. I know that people come from all kinds of situations and codebases, everyone is doing their best given the conditions they’re in, and there really is no One True Way to write code. I will at least always try to give a good sense of how I’d prefer things be done instead, rather than just pointing at something and saying it’s bad.

But I think there’s another reason why I come across as negative or angry. And as always with these things it’s hard to tell if I’m just jaded and ossified from having spent my entire adult life touching keyboards, or if it has real merit: I feel like the web used to work better. Not in the sense of features or flagship sites—web-based email clients and word processors and image editors are all waaay better than they used to be and I would say the high-quality stuff is of higher quality than ever. I’m not pining for the HTML-only version of GMail, I promise. But if I were to estimate some rough median of “how well do websites work” I would also say that there’s an incredible amount of jank out there. My father called me in exasperation last night after trying and failing to book a plane ticket. I find myself having to go over to their house and do things like switch browsers, open private windows, occasionally even open up the Web Inspector to fiddle with the markup, and I hate every second of it. I’ve trained myself out of using the Back button and opening things in new windows, and I will often close and restart order flows rather than try to go back and edit something I messed up. And I just… WHY. Why is it so hard?

Your web browser is an amazing piece of software. Give it an HTML page and it’ll render and lay it out in milliseconds, and if you let it do what it wants to do (follow a link when it’s clicked, submit a form with a button, populate input fields, etc) it’ll just work like everyone expects it to. I think that’s where most of my pathos comes from: I have a lived experience from the Before Times when things were just pages and forms, and it turns out pages and forms get you very, very far.

I’m a web developer, so I know that the number one cause of jank and breakage is another developer having messed with the browser’s default way of doing things. I can usually figure out what has been tampered with and work around it. But normal people can’t. They expect the Back button to work, and they expect that the stuff they filled out on the previous page will be there when they click it. And it would! If you would just let the browser do what it wants to do!

I could absolutely write cheerier, more charitable and uplifting tech posts. Everything doesn’t have to be an aggressive “do better” response to something or someone. But I assure you those posts come from a place of genuine concern: much of the modern web makes me sad and I feel like I’m screaming into the wind. Every broken contact form or booking site is a truly spectacular own-goal. If your calendar was a bunch of progressively enhanced checkboxes and a submit button, you could be riding off into the sunset and counting money instead of taking support calls from frustrated octogenarians. And it’s hard for me to shut up about that.

I care. I really do. That’s why I’m mad sometimes.