In the early 19th Century, bands of itinerant British workers rampaged through factories, destroying machinery in the belief that technology was eliminating their livelihoods.
They were called Luddites, after Ned Ludd, an 18th Century British textile worker who had originated the idea. Judging from the picture of him I found, it’s a good thing his thoughts about fashion didn’t catch on as well.
In the intervening years, the term “Luddite” has come to mean a person with an aversion to new technology. That doesn’t mean they’re like the Amish; a Luddite will use electricity, drive a car, wear colorful clothing, and grow a mustache to go with the beard. They just have a mistrust of technology that has come along in their lifetimes. Like computers and smart phones and talking urinal cakes. (More on that in a moment.)
While I am not a Luddite, I am also not what marketers call an “early adapter.” You won’t find me camping outside an Apple store every time a new product is coming out. There are a few principles I follow whenever something new comes along:
- Wait until it’s perfected. My father practiced this like a religion. It’s why my family did not own a color TV until 1969. In this regard, he was ahead of his time. Now people tell you to always wait for the second release of software. Dad would have waited until the 34th.
- Wait until the shakeout. Whenever some new technology comes out, there always seems to be two or more versions of it. And one always falls by the wayside. If you don’t wait until then, you end up trying to sell Betamaxes, HD DVD players and 8-Track tapes on eBay.
- Wait until the price comes down. Who would have ever thought, when cell phones first came out, that in the not too distant future, companies would be giving them away for free. Not to mention that you would one day not have to carry around a briefcase-sized apparatus in order for them to work. And that you’d be able to access the Internet, and send little text messages, and pay as much per month for service as you were paying for an apartment then.
There’s another principle that sounds Luddite-ish but isn’t: not all new technology is good. I’m not talking about big, end of the world technology like the atom bomb or Skynet. I’m talking about stuff that invades our everyday lives and destroys it. Here are three examples:
Social media: Forget all the privacy stuff and the idiocy of people posting embarrassing things about themselves that will haunt them their entire lives, particularly if they run for office. Or apply for a job. Or ask someone out on a date.. The real problem with Facebook, Twitter and the like is that it has made it impossible to begin an in-person conversation with someone.
I have a hard time starting conversations anyway, and if I can’t say, “Hey, Herb, what’s new?” because Herb has already posted everything that’s new on Facebook, I’m totally lost. Of course, I hardly ever look at people’s statuses, so I wouldn’t know what’s new with Herb, but that would make it even worse, because when I said “Hey, Herb, what’s new?” he’d say “Don’t you read my wall (or timeline, or whatever the hell it’s called these days)?” and I’d have to admit that I don’t, because I really don’t care what’s new with Herb, and I was just asking in order to start a conversation, which is no longer necessary, because now Herb doesn’t want to talk to me.
Remote Parking Meters: Some simple things should stay simple. You park, you put a coin in the slot, you’re done. Sure, you’ve got to keep quarters in the car, and occasionally you have to run into a store to buy a pack of gum just to get change, which is getting increasingly difficult, because there are few things left in the world that you can buy and still get at least a quarter back in change for a dollar, but it’s no big deal.
But now, when you park in Manhattan, you have to run down the street, pay at a machine, and run back to put the receipt in the windshield, all before a predatory meter maid gives you a ticket. Thanks to a new law, you have a five-minute grace period before the meter police can descend upon your vehicle, which may be enough time to get down the block, figure out how to use the box, and get back. Or it may not. (And to the old lady with a walker, well, you might want to use a garage.)
In Stamford, the parking lots have remote meters. You don’t have to put the receipt in your windshield, but you do have to remember the number of the spot you parked in while you run to the machine, all the while repeating the number over and over so you don’t forget it, and then there’s a line at the machine because the friggin’ thing is dyslexic when it comes to reading credit cards, and then you finally get there and somebody asks you what time it is and you say “11:05” and now you can’t remember your space number and you have to go back to the car to see what it is and start the whole process all over again.
Or is that just me?
Things That Talk: As noted above, verbal communication is not my strong suit. And I certainly prefer to limit my conversations to humans. And my dog Toby. And sometimes the TV when someone on a reality show does something particularly stupid. Oh yeah, and myself.
The point is that I don’t want things initiating discussions with me, especially in their halting, humanoid female voices (they’re almost always female) that assemble sentences from their component parts.* And I really hate when I am expected to respond, because they never understand what I’m saying.
Yes, that’s right, even robot women don’t understand me.
You know what else I hate? Those voice recognition telephone queues:
“Please tell us what your problem is so we can direct your call. You can say things like ‘Billing,’ or ‘Technical Issue’ or ‘existing order,’ and I’ll send you to the same person in India regardless of your answer.”
The thing I really want to say is never on the list.
And finally, we have the grandmaster level of talking devices: a truly demented company called Wizmark (and, as you’ll see in a second, “Wiz” is not short for “wizard), is selling the aforementioned talking urinal cakes. Really. According to their website:
“As a one-of-a-kind, fully functional interactive device, Wizmark can talk, sing, or flash a string of lights around a promotional message when greeting a ‘visitor.'”
I don’t know about you guys, but I, for one, do not wish to be “greeted” when I use a public restroom. I don’t even like it when there’s a man in there handing out towels. In fact, I don’t like anyone talking to me while I’m trying to, um, concentrate. And I surely don’t need anything involving my bodily functions to be “interactive.” I mean, what exactly would the interaction be? “Aim left for yes, aim right for no?”
And unfortunately, Wizmark is not quite being accurate when it says its product is “one-of-a-kind.” Because there is also a public service urinal cake that measures the alcohol level of the pee and announces–loudly and for all to hear–that the pee-er should call a cab.
Look, there’s really only one good use for a talking device in a public bathroom. It would be one that goes into the toilet bowl so that, when someone sits down, they hear “Help! Let me out!”
See you soon.
*One exception: our GPS lady, who is very helpful, although I curse at her when she has to recalculate.