- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

Today, thoughts on stupid technology technology for technology's sake, geek gush, stuff they want to sell us that we don't need.
Geeks (who I like, but that's beside the point here) drive technology. They love it, and assume that if something is really cool their preferred word it must also be really desirable.If it appeals to electronheads, it must be a great idea.That's why digital watches have lap timers, stop watches good to a hundredth of a second, 24-hour military time, and alarms that get set by bumping against things and you can't shut off.A lot of money gets wasted on such geewhizzery.
Some examples:
1) Video phones.Horrible idea.I picture myself half-naked in my office in the morning, haven't shaved, hair like a rat's nest, office disheveled as if a bachelor lived in it.Which one does. Do I want the editor of some dreadfully important magazine to see me? Fred the Homeless
Does a woman who answers a phone want to be recognizable to every deep-breather who calls? Doyou want strange men I mean very strange men to see what your children look like when they answer the phone?
And what good does it do to see a caller? If I'm ordering five cartridges of toner, or asking for a report, why does seeing the voice on the other end of the line help me?Don't tell me about psychological cuing, body language, "interactional enhancement." A large advantage of the voice-only phone is that it keeps people from having to sit in each other's laps.Sometimes personal distance is a good thing. Anonymity is just fine, thank you.
2)Speech recognition, beloved of geeks. I'd rather have two heads.For one thing, it doesn't work, or not well enough. For another, I don't want to sit in the workplace, talking to my computer, everyone listening to my inmost thoughts.Nor do I want a sore throat at the end of the day.Bad idea. Sure, there are uses for speech recognition.Dictation isn't one of them. Most things aren't one of them.
3)Constant wireless connectedness.I know, I know. Some will want this.But e-mail on my Palm Pilot, along with the Internet and instant messaging?Personally, I'd rather have a lot less e-mail, even where it's supposed to be: in the office.Am I going to sit on the subway, peering at a tiny screen, dealing in my every private moment with communications I'd rather not have at all?Tippy-tapping with a tiny probe at a minute screen?Exposing myself to brainless instant messages?Don't hold your breath.
4)Streaming wireless video content, as it's called television or movies on my PDA. Oh, good.I got rid of cable recently, on the theory that while the world is full of idiots, I wasn't going to pay $40 a month to look at them.So now I'm going to pay $80 to carry Jerry Springer around with me?Watch movies on a 3-inch screen?That's a plan.
Further, I don't need up-to-the-nanosecond stock quotes, or headlines, or weather.All of this is geekery, perhaps useful for attracting vulture capitalists who aren't real alert.I'd rather be left alone, if you please. If I want to be entertained, I'll listen to music of my choosing on a CD player. Maybe.
5)Word processing and spreadsheets on portable gizmos.Time and again I've seen some matchbook-sized gadget advertised as having a scaled-down computer operating system and a lite version of Microsoft Office.Is anyone really going to try to do spreadsheets while waiting for a bus?On a tiny little thing you can't see?
Countless other examples could be cited digital cameras that record sound clips because they can, not because anyone wants them too; software you use over the Web instead of installing on your computer.On and onit goes.
The problem is that companies often don't ask the correct question, which is: What do people actually want to do, and how can we make it easier for them?People actually want to take photographs, for example, and all sorts of clever technological tricks actually do make it easier auto-exposure, automatic focusing, automatic flash and so on.People don't want some messy way of recording a 10-second sound track with the photo that they have no reasonable way of listening to and that makes photography awkward.
My camera can do it, though.Because it can. But it never will, because it's a bad idea.


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