Breaking The Fourth Wall In Software – And Beyond The Stage Is The Planet

I publish an online newspaper called Woodstock Generation Women’s Newsa curated conglomeration of content of interest to women who came of age during the 60’s and 70’s. I’ve been doing it for quite some time, but I haven’t pointed it out to anyone because I lost control of it about a year ago. For some reason, I could not log into my account and make updates. But today, miraculously, I was able to do so. Why? Because I simply wrote to the company that manages the publishing program and told them “hey, you guys, this isn’t working.” Actual humans wrote back – hurrah. And they solved the problem, which up until then had not been fixable with a “forgot my password” type of process.

Essentially it took me a year to remember that I could break the fourth wall, to borrow a term from the theater when an actor breaks the imaginary “wall” at the front of the stage and speaks directly to the audience as himself, not his character. Sometimes when the whole beautiful program or platform just gets messed up, or you mess it up, it’s time to break that fourth wall and stop playing the role of “software user,” and just contact the humans who built it and say “what the heck.” This actually never occurred to me until I started designing websites. In that work, I’ve learned that I can – usually, at least – find the online forum for a theme or plugin that I’m using and ask the people who created it for help with what I want to do or a problem that I’m having.

It’s so cool to me – amazing, really – to have a 12-hour-delayed running conversation with Priyanka who’s in Pakistan, and we’re talking about my website and her company’s program and she’s giving me a snippet of code to add to the custom css field of my theme so that I can hide the breadcrumbs at the tops of my pages. I love thinking about how Priyanka and I are on two sides of the planet, in opposing time zones, and we speak two very different native languages, and yet we’re engaged in the same enterprise in the same way, and we’re talking with each other about it, and I’m supporting her a bit by buying their program and she’s supporting me a bit by helping me resolve my problem with it. It’s sweet. It’s pacifist. I gives me hope about the connectedness of the human race and the basic sameness of us all. It makes me believe that almost all of us want, really, the same thing – to go about our work and our meals and our families and to be basically decent to one another.

One of my favorite moments of sweetness was when I watched a video tutorial made by man who was, I think, Indian, and he had a deep melodic voice as he showed how to create a new php file for a custom footer. He said gently, “You type in the code just like this, isn’t it?” … “And so when you finish this step, you will see that the left block of text displays as you want, isn’t it?” I could hear children playing distantly outside his window. I wanted to cry.

2 thoughts on “Breaking The Fourth Wall In Software – And Beyond The Stage Is The Planet

  • July 25, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    A funny customer service story. At some point, I needed help from an American company that routed me to Pakistan. When I asked the name of the person who was assisting me, he replied, “Steve Jobs.” Thinking I’d misheard, I asked him to repeat and again heard clearly, “Steve Jobs.” (SJ was still alive.)
    My helper explained that workers there were directed to choose names that were recognizable to native English speakers.
    So I asked him if Bill Gates worked there, too.

    • July 31, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      Ha! Great story!


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