When you press the button marked `tea’, our office vending machine dispenses a brown liquid almost entirely unlike tea, yet at the touch of a (different) button my computer can send and receive messages and visuals from all round the world. That’s the strange thing about technology some of it is breathtakingly impressive, some irritatingly unreliable; some solves important problems and improves quality of life, some is pointless in the extreme and some can manage to be all these at once.
I was flicking through a copy of the Siemens New World magazine and came across a couple of pieces which demonstrated this point. One piece asked a number of prominent business people what irritated them about mobile phones; there were no complaints about the actual phones but lots about their use (or abuse). Now I can’t deny that mobile technology is very clever – you can talk to people all over the world from anywhere without wires or a pocket of change. But what about those annoying dead zones. It’s great to make a call from your car or the train to let business colleagues know that you’ll be late or call the emergency services in the event of an accident. But how many people are so indispensable that they need to carry their phone all the time so that it rings in cinemas, restaurants and so on.
The other article described how state-of-the-art technology used in a `Smart House’ allowed disabled people to live a more independent life. Designed to give intelligent assistance to the occupants the houses will open the windows if it gets too hot, for example, or automatically shut off the stove after a given interval. All clever stuff which improves quality of life for a sector of the community. But isn’t that how the television remote control began – great if you are elderly or disabled and getting up to change channel is difficult or impossible, but pointless otherwise. I don’t know about everyone else but its 3m tops from my sofa to the television and I think I can manage to drag my sorry carcass across the floor to the TV. And I’m sure control of the remote causes more arguments in households than most anything else.