Saturday, May 16, 2015

Do Not Hover

There are real problems in the world on which we should focus. Wars in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Inequality and racism here at home. Plus incivility in public discourse, climate issues and the taint of money in politics, to name but a few. Any one of these or their myriad offshoots are worth serious time, attention and debate.

But today I want to focus on the dangers of hovering.

First, a definition. To hover is to hang over something. We normally think of it as the default state of a helicopter, but you can also hover as a teacher or as a parent. In tech terms, hovering is when you place your finger or mouse or pointer over something and pause. Sometimes it does nothing; it's merely where you park your pointer for a few moments in all the swiping and dragging and dropping that you do. Other times you do so intentionally to bring up a menu or an option or even an explanation of what a particular button or part of the screen does or means.

No matter the situation, the action is meant to be benign. Nothing is being done you can't undo. That's not to say that it always has no impact. Just the fact that you hover might indeed influence the situation. Hover as a teacher, and Sally might actually stop trying to sneak a look at her Facebook page and do the classwork. Hover as a parent, and Jimmy might actually eat his vegetables.

The thing about hovering is that it invites action, even though there is no requirement: you can walk away or not. You must make the conscious decision to say something to Sally or Jimmy, and chance the course of events, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. Maybe "Sally, are Meghan's party pics really more important than your algebra?" Or "Jimmy, if you don't eat your broccoli, there will be no ice cream for dessert." If you take action, you let the chips fall.

What I've experienced lately, however, is different, and the reason for my caution. For if there is such a thing as friends with benefits, there is hovering with consequences.

The first time was on the train. I was working on my laptop building a rough draft of an effect I was trying to sell for a project. I had all the pieces arranged on the screen in what looked to be a suitable fashion. I pulled my pointer away, not realizing it was hovering over the "delete all" button. I gazed at the screen, trying to take in the entire effect. And then we hit the bump. The entire car lurched up and down, causing my finger to tap the track pad. And before I could say "Do Not Delete" it deleted. The screen literally went blank. Thankfully, most software has an "undo" button which I immediately clicked, and all was back if not forgiven.

You would have thought I learned my lesson. But on a flight not a week later, the same thing happened. One second I was admiring my handiwork at 30,000 feet, the next I was cursing and searching the menus for the "please go back and make me whole again" button. And when I got to the location for the job? I was sitting on a raised platform that wasn't braced very well. I had just picked some stuff out from Amazon, and was reading the order summary when I had second thoughts. But before I could move from the "Place the Order" button to the "Cancel" varietal, one of our team bounded up the steps to tell me something. Up went the platform, and down came my finger. I guess I needed that extra roll of deer netting after all.

As you grow up there are certain universal cautions that you learn, many of them taught to you by your mother. Others are borne out of years of scientific evidence, social engineering and pure gut intuition. In either case, they provide a road map for survival in the world and peaceful coexistence alongside your fellow humans. By and large good advice all, they are flaunted at their own peril to you and your environs. Don't throw a ball in the house. Don't chew with your mouth open. Don't go to bed without brushing your teeth. Don't hit your sister. To those, let me add my own: hover at your risk.


Marc Wollin of Bedford still hovers, but cautiously. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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