Today’s technology is so advanced, it utterly boring

You could say that I’m a “gadget guy.”  I really enjoy electronic gadgets, at least electronic gadgets before the days of the all-in-one “smart” devices.  Today’s consumer devices may be the most technically advanced and functionally diverse gadgetry ever to exist, but let’s face it: they’re boring.

I can remember my enjoyment for fiddling and tinkering with electronic devices beginning with the Parker Brothers Merlin handheld electronic game.  I’ll never forget the countless hours of fun it gave me, with the flashing LEDs, futuristic electronic sounds, and the selection of games you could play on it.  That’s where it all started for me.

During the eighties, there was an explosion of handheld devices on the market that did so many wonderful things, from the digital wrist watches and calculators to the more complex mini “Watchman” television units.  There were devices for just about anything you could think of, all arrayed with so many different buttons, knobs, dials, switches and LCD readouts that kept a person like me occupied for hours… or even days.

As the years went on, these electronic gizmos became more sophisticated and elaborate in their designs and functions.  Soon, we had even more entertaining devices to choose from, like the Tandy Pocket-PC.  Now, that was a device that was rarely out of my reach for most of the late 80 and early 90s.  I don’t use very much these days, but I still have it and cherish it.

My Pocket PC gave way to the new pocket day timers/organizers that started to spring up on the market, in the early 90s.   All of those buttons and built-in functions really catered to the “gadget guy” in me.  The ultimate were the Franklin Bookman devices, that could contain the contents of an entire library of encyclopedias in one little card.  Later, they also developed ebook cards that did some of the PDA and organizer functions, which really made them interesting devices to have.

Then, in the early 2000s, Franklin really went “whole hog” on digital ebook / PDA development when they launched a very diverse line of digital organizers and then the eBookMan.  All of those buttons!  All of that functionality and portability!  It was such a fun time for portable electronic devices.

But, here’s the thing: even though these devices did a lot of things, they didn’t do everything.  They still had the characteristics of being unique devices that did certain things.  We, as consumers, had a choice as to what kind of devices we wanted to own and use.  Did you want a PDA that used a keyboard input, or one that used a stylus?  Did you want one that could read downloaded ebooks, or did you prefer cartridge based technology?  Do you need it to have wireless connectivity to your PC, or is a serial or USB cable good enough?  If you want to expand it’s storage capacity, do you want to use Compact Flash cards (like your digital camera), or do you want the more compact MMC memory cards?

But, today, although you may think you still have a choice in the products you buy, I hate to be the one to tell you this…. you don’t.  It may appear as though your local cell phone outlet has all sorts of different smart phones for you to choose from, but look closer.  They’re all basically the same thing.  They do everything, and by doing everything there’s nothing really special about any of them.  Unlike the good ol’ days, one device does everything for you, so there’s really nothing that makes it special.  And for a gadget guy like me, this is utterly boring.

I mean, just look at this photo and try to admire how unique and special these little works of electronic wizardry are from one another.

Franklin PDAs and a Sharp

Although they all do very similar things, every one of them is unique.  They were made to appeal to different kinds of people, with different needs and different interests.  They don’t do everything, just like not every person needs to the same things as everyone else in the world.

Now, look at this photo of our cell phone.  It’s as boring and indiscriminate as a thing can get.

Samsung Smart Phone

Sure, it does everything, but what if I don’t want to do everything with it?  Unfortunately, it’s because of devices and mentalities like this that our choices as consumers are slowly being taken away.

This is the reason why I refuse to use our cell phone for anything else but making phone calls and as a hot spot for Internet access.  If I want to take a photo, I’ll use my camera, which has a view finder that actually let’s me properly frame a photo in bright sunlight.  And if I want to read an ebook, I’ll use my eBookMan that also lets me clearly read from it’s screen in bright sunlight.

I’m a gadget guy who’s unfortunately found himself in a world that’s doing away with anything “gadget-y”.

Here’s a link to a gallery of some of my other retro tech that I enjoy…  23HQ Tech Album.

 


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  1. Phones are a bit bland. I wonder if that’s simply as a result of peak evolution in efficient interface design. The general consumer wants a device that can do everything, so its cheaper to just make a touchscreen and let everyone else write their own digital interfaces.

    The big risk of blandness, from my perspective, is when all the apps on the devices start to look the same.

    1. Actually, blandness comes from design inefficiency. Smartphones target the lowest IQ user who could still maintain basic coherence, people who are smarter than that can either choose to get upset at how limited the device is due to the target market or just accept this is the way things are going to head.

      What made these Gadgets interesting was that RTFM actually rewarded you for doing so, exposing tips and tricks that you could do with the device that might not have been obvious from the start. With Smartphones, if it isn’t obvious how to do it, the device cannot do it. Smartphones remove features that these prior devices had and you’re stuck with only what someone who never RTFM could figure out in 30 seconds of using the device.

      It’s similar to being able to pull up a terminal window and just type the command you want to do because you actually know what you’re doing… or being forced to finagle with a DE that might not even have implemented a method of doing what you want. The smartphone removes the terminal (and all those high powered user features) leaving behind only a device designed specifically for people with the lowest coherent IQ and that is only capable of doing what people with the lowest coherent IQ could expect it to do.

      The more you try to get out of the phone, the more you should realize that a pure touchscreen interface is exceedingly limiting, a shutter button, simple volume control to be accessible at any moment, playback control is often thrown on external headsets simply because the hassle of manipulating the phone is a pain in the neck. What you get is the worst interface design for all, but capable of doing many different things.

      I wouldn’t say it’s how advanced the technology is, rather it’s how unadvanced it is. What you get is a dumbed down device that will automatically bracket a bunch of photos, take them at different focal lengths as well, then automatically process all of this without user input. You can’t configure the rendering engine to do anything other than spit out predefined composites, you can’t even access these intermediate photos that the device is hiding from you… the gadgetness of photoshopping has been completely removed, you’re just left with a generic and bland filters that gets automatically applied to every photo, none of that advanced user being able to do advanced things… there is one solution, full automation, and being unique doesn’t matter.

      1. Well said. You hit the nail right on the head. And the real sad part about all of this, is that people are embracing this dumbing down with open arms.

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