Sunday, January 8, 2017
Too bad we're not as clever as our tools
Life isn't fiction, but sometimes it'll arrange itself thematically, or seem to.
For instance, on Christmas Eve, we met some old friends who lived in the city, took in a movie, then headed to their place to scarf Chinese chow. Their son, to my surprise, opened the front door by pulling out his cell phone and tapping a few buttons. I'm not sure how that's an advantage over a key, but it is different.
Golly, I thought, or words to that effect.
Technology seems the same for a while, then it changes. Not so long ago I'd plot out where I'm going on Google Map before I left. Now there's no point, I can just plug the address into my phone—it takes a few seconds—and, should I need directions, it'll tell me where to go.
The other day, I was picked up in a new Audi A4, a sleek piece of German engineering. I was intrigued to notice that the cabin temperature registered on the climate control knobs. I admired the economy of that—the knob surface was just wasted space before; why not put some data on it? Countless engineers gazed at those fat blank buttons, until one day, one engineer thought, You know....
The display reminded me of bathroom sinks that so charmed me in the tiny bathrooms of Japan—built into the back of the toilet tank, they not only saved room, but the water you used to wash your hands helped fill the tank. Amazing.
The New Technology Chapter came to a close, for my purposes, Saturday, when I heard a report on the radio about the Consumer Electronics Show, now going on in Las Vegas. LG unveiled its OLED "wallpaper TV" which is only 1/10 of an inch thick. That's really thin.
Which leads to the obvious closing question: why can't people be as clever as the technology we create? It might have been stronger to end on that note, but let's make it an actual rather than a rhetorical question. Why? Maybe because a gizmo, no matter how wondrous, is a lot simpler to put together than a society. Maybe because a society is comprised by the whole jumbled bell curve of people, some of whom are staggeringly dumb. Maybe something else. Maybe the gizmos should reflect a bit of wonder back on our staggering society because, without our current culture, flawed though it is, there would be no cool technology to feel good about.