Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The art of uselessness

I was scanning the headlines at when I spied this gem below the story about Italy's economic meltdown: "Breakingviews: An interactive Italian debt calculator." I thought: Um, you're kiddin' me, right? They weren't. This slick "calculator" lets you "stabilize" Rome's debt/GDP ratio with three sliding (i.e., interactive) bars. You can adjust the interest rate between 3% and 10%, the nominal growth rate between -5% and 5%, and the actual debt/GDP ratio between 80% and 140%. Yeah baby -- are you pumped yet? I mean, who needs Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 when you can play with this? But what, pray tell, do all of these interactive percentages actually mean? I haven't a clue. Nor would the average reader, especially those without a PhD in macro economics. In fact, this is a toy only Professor Paul Krugman could love. So, since 99.999% of us have no idea what GDP even means (let alone interest rate-based debt ratios), what on earth is the point of this widget? That's the question the managing web editor at Reuters should have asked but clearly didn't. Aspiring digital editors take note: You don't want to be that guy. Just ask the poor software dude who had to work god knows how many man-hours creating something that no one is going to use.

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