The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Are we due for some devolution in our technological progress? The Boston Globe's Ellen Goodman certainly thinks so. She thinks packing a multitude of features into devices does nothing but confuse, especially when less-than-intuitive interfaces gum up the works. So, ditch your MP3 player for a phonograph, already.

Part of me sneers at such old-style resistance. I encounter people every day who can't handle routine interaction with all manner of modern technologies: ATM machines, computer programs, escalators, etc. And sometimes I just want to grab these braindeads and shake some sense into them--HARD.

But, sure, even though I have an above-average aptitude for the technical (basically, enough of a grasp to get me in trouble), I can see other viewpoint. And no doubt, it's hard to justify the existence of a cellphone that also plays MP3s, and has an FM radio, and can access the Web, and serves as a PDA... and at the same time, can't give you a decent phone connection. In my office, for instance, when our primary fax machine died, I pushed hard for a low-level, dumb-terminal kind of fax machine, one that simply sent, received and that's it. I was overruled. Now, we've got a machine that supposedly can do all sorts of things, but never does, partly because half the people who use it are afraid to or don't use it enough to make learning worthwhile. C'est la vie.

Back to Goodman, this bit reminded me of something:

If that were not forward (to the past) thinking enough, Microsoft is marketing a brand new little tablet PC that you can write on with -- blast from the past -- a pen. They boasted loud and far that this invention had all the versatility of paper. What will they do next, patent papyrus?

Paper is indeed a wondrous medium, and let's face it, more reliable in many instances. I read some article ages ago that posited that if paper and pencil were somehow not invented until just today, they would be touted as revolutionary innovations. Consider:

- Power-source independent.
- Crash-proof.
- Automatic save function.
- Redo function (the eraser).
- Compact and portable.
- Supports a huge range of inputs (different languages, graphics, etc.).
- Fully erasable without a data trail (via shredding, burning or your destructive method of choice).