Friday, November 23, 2007

Technology post, the sequel!

Today was "black friday" where concupiscence and rationalization run mad throughout the malls and big-box stores and online shopping carts. I didn't participate; oh, but I wanted to. I've become quite indisposed toward my huge, fat, too-bright 19" CRT staring me in the face and making my eyes tired. I imagine that I would enjoy an immense satisfaction at having it (and my rinky-dink speakers) replaced with a 37" 1080p LCD television for $800. But it was not meant to be.

I did spend some of my idle time thinking about technology; in particular, if one had to have certain good things in one's life ("had to have" being used equivocally, of course), what they would be, or not be.

For example: portable music. Most people's needs in this area are probably more modest than marketers will admit. That's certainly true in the case of 80GB iPods, but I believe it's also true in the fad, also endorsed by Apple, of having one's phone and music player in the same device. I might be a strange duck, but I'm still of the old-fashioned mold that considers the presence of a cell phone only valuable some of the time. One of the times I can imagine rather being without my phone, is precisely when I'm trying to relax with music. If both the phone and the music player can be made even more diminutive and affordable in a separate state, then all the better.

Then there's the business of PMPs, or portable media players. Beyond the obstacle of the still Byzantine process of actually getting media on the things, I don't imagine that PMPs will take off here unless we become as individualistic, escapist, and atomistic as Japan. The PMP is the ultimate step in the commoditizaion of drama, doing to theater what the Gameboy does to play. For probably not completely unrelated reasons, there is a tangible feeling of inappropriateness when someone uses such a device in public unless there are truly no other activities available. On this plane, the PSP (not a typo, I am referring to Sony's device) is a curiously obnoxious example. Recent advertisements that showcase the PSP being used for everything under the sun have only persuaded me that people using a PSP look silly.

In fact, with the exception of a small laptop, I've lost interest in the miniaturization and convergence craze. I believe a line is crossed when a machine that normally attracts the eyes' attention for longer than a minute is designed to be used standing up (or in a way that occupies both hands). Without such devices, we would almost never do this. People in their right mind don't walk and read a magazine at the same time. Granted, these devices cater to a Japanese culture which, so I've read, spends much time standing in line. But we're not there yet (and even if we were, I would like to think we would enjoy the peace that comes with line-standing rather than sacrifice even that small lamb to the productivity gods).

Then there's the point that such devices, especially game players, are the high-tech pacifiers of youths from grade school through college. I remember what it was like to enjoy video games so much that the prospect of not having to wait until I got home was unbearably attractive. It wasn't healthy, but it was attractive.

Let me say this about adulthood (even young adulthood): it is nice not to be any longer a sucker-fish on the algae of sensory stimulation. It's a breath of fresh air.

I hope that anyone reading this doesn't interpret it to be an anti-technology diatribe. Yes, I drew a line. Across that line, I believe technology innovations have become faddish, and have presumed to alter human behavior rather than serve it. But I'm happy for diminutive music players with simple interfaces, nondescript cell phones that can send text messages and hold memos, and more recently, cheap 2lbs laptops that just work. I'm also happy for great big TVs that I can't afford and XBox360s that let lots of people play great looking games without expensive PCs (I wish I had more time to play mine, and more people to play it with).

But the adage often cited--"Just because we can, doesn't mean that we should"--in connection to hotter issues like cloning and embryonic stem cells, also applies here. Where personal technological innovations are concerned, we just have to bear in mind an anthropic principle: if it wasn't designed to benefit people as they already are, then what the heck is it for?

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