Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Does technology equal progress?

So now NASA is investigating the problems with Toyota accelerators. No kidding. They're trying to determine if solar flares may have somehow upset the electronics in the cars.

Of course, a few years back, if you had a problem with the accelerator, all you had to do is look at it. There was a cable running from the pedal to the throttle. It's either stuck or broken, or it isn't. The whole system was a half dozen or so mechanical pieces that were either obviously broken, or not.

How many hundreds of millions, dare I say billions, of dollars in research and programming/engineering time went into replacing this simple system (a few bucks worth of hardware) with high tech software? How many more millions will be spent trying to figure out what's wrong with it? Can one really say that the new system is an improvement over the old one, by any measure?

I saw a commercial the other day for a self-propelled lawn mower. Not just any self-propelled lawn mower; this one has a secondary handle that slides as you apply more or less pressure, causing the wheels to spin faster or slower. You can actually adjust the speed of the mower you're walking behind! Didn't we accomplish the same thing in the past by just walking faster or slower? Have we really gotten that lazy? "Sure, I'll walk behind this thing and hold the handle, but I'm not going to apply 5 or 6 foot pounds of force to it! I'm not Hercules!"

Audi will be testing a robotic car right here in Colorado Springs this fall. This car will drive itself right up Pikes Peak! A number of companies are working on self-driving cars. If they’re successful, one day, most people wont be familiar with how to manually operate a motor vehicle. Some type of emergency service like OnStar will be an absolute necessity, since you’d just be stuck if anything went wrong with the mechanics or the software. Yes, you’d in effect have to subscribe to your car, adding it to the ever-growing list of things you can buy, but will never really own. This is progess?

Coors has a new beer can that changes color when it’s cold. How else could you possibly know whether the beer in your hand is cold or not? Maybe next we could get socks that send out email alerts to let you know you’ve stubbed your toe.

Have you ever seen the old Saturday Night Live commercial making fun of a 3 bladed razor ad? It ends with some animation and the tag line “because you’ll believe anything”. Guess what? Gillette is coming out with a new 6 bladed razor for their “closest shave yet”. How close do we really need to shave? I think I could make do with 1980 level closeness for the rest of my life and be okay with it.

These are just a few examples suggesting more complicated doesn't necessarily mean better. How about making products that last longer instead of one’s that solve problems that don’t exist. Of course, the consumer is the driver. Money will flow into making more of whatever you buy today. So before you put that internet-ready, pickle jar safety coaster in your cart, ask yourself “Do we really need to spend any more man-hours on this one?”.

1 comment:

Abifae said...

My guess is food supply. They cut all the fats out and brains are starving. :D