Thursday, June 16, 2005

Button, button, who's got the button?

It would help us simplifiers if the manufacturing industry came "down" to our standards. I am constantly amazed at how many "bells and whistles" component every technological product has to possess. I realize it is now an old joke about nobody being able to program the VCR, but the pattern is truly insidious.

I have what was in the late 1980s a top-of-the-line computer sewing machine. I still don't know how to use all its features. And I don't sew often enough to remember them when I learn them.
Every time I have to sew a buttonhole, I must take out the instruction manual and look up the instructions. I have presser feet and specialized attachments I not only will never use - I haven't even learned what they are for.

In spite of all the wonderful tasks my serger will perform, I still use it mainly for finishing seams - and for you sewing-impaired readers, that is like asking Meryl Streep to act in a first-grade play.

We bought a new smaller microwave so it takes up less counter space in the kitchen while we are trying to sell the house. Does anyone really use all those features? Sheesh! I was trying to explain to Ed, my resident culinary expert, how to cook bacon in the microwave, and he dismissed my whole lecture, saying, "I don't want to know that stuff. All I use the microwave for is defrosting and heating up food and drinks."

I'm currently on a rampage about how they make remotes. Like most families, we have several remotes - TV remotes, VCR/DVD remotes, stereo remotes...even a remote to turn on a ceiling fan and light. Each remote is different, and each time I have to complicate my life by trying to remember how each one works. I know there are "universal" remotes out there but they are just as bad and I have never been able to get them to work right. Yet these remotes are supposed to be simplifying our life by allowing our lazy selves to manipulate the machine without getting up. I suspect our kids can't even remember the days we had to get up and walk over to the TV and actually change a channel manually.

The cordless phone is another "miracle of technology." What was that Paul said in the Bible? He doesn't do what he wants to do, and does what he doesn't want to do? Yeah, my cordless phone is the same way. It has functions I will never use and never learn, yet the function I use the most, storing numbers in the digital phone book, limits itself to 30 numbers. Let me tell you, I can list 30 numbers I need to store in less than a minute - and have numbers I still want to add - but I'm limited to 30. The rest I will have to look up or memorize, I guess. And this is simplifying?

The cell phone is no better. There are apparently a few buttons on the side of the thing that I am accidentally pushing when I handle the phone. I think one of them turns off the ringer, but I'm not sure. How in the heck does one pick up a tiny phone like that and not push anything on the outside?

The CD player in my Toyota is another wonder of technology. I still can't remember how to skip a track, etc., without pushing several buttons. Not good when I'm driving.

So is technology simplifying our lives or making them more complicated? Are we more productive? Are we less or more stressed?

I will admit here that, with all my recent rants about clocks, it gives me some satisfaction to look on the wall and see basically the same kind of simple clock I grew up with. Round, 12 numbers, 2 big hands, one little hand. It even has the same numbers I grew up watching. I'm so glad they didn't change the numbers. It's nice that some things never change...not yet, anyway.

1 comment:

Matt James said...

Oh my! It's like this entry is perfrect for me!

I would agree that things need to be simpler in the manufacturing/tech industry. (One way to make your life simpler is to get a Mac, but I'm sure you already know that! :) )

In Donald Norman's book, the invisible computer, he talks about how it is in the end user as well as the industry's best interest to make things more appliance-like (which as you explained might not be the appropriate term anymore) and to just perform very basic functions. Or as Norman puts it, the product should be "no harder to use than the task is to perform" (paraphrasing). When we make products easier to use and more basic, not only does the user have a better experience, but we also make the development of the product easier on ourselves! It is easier to maintain and usually less costly to produce. Why on Earth wouldn't we push with eveything we can to do that??

And of course, as I said before, get a Mac -- it's a good place to start. :)