Alvin Toffler wrote a book way back in the “long forgotten” predicting that as technology becomes more complex, a higher number of people would become disenfranchised from society and no longer able to cope. We are there.
My first tech was a TI calculator. It was the size of a small brick and could add, subtract, multiply and divide. It cost my parents a bundle. A few years later, they were giving them away for free. The newer model calculators had all the higher level scientific functions. A few years after that, they became programable. I have had the same calculator now for 30 years. it doesn’t break and math hasn’t changed. It came with a hundred page instruction book that I still have. I read every page in it and often referred to some sections.
My first cell phone was also the size of a small brick. It could send and recieve phone calls. If it came with instructions, I never knew it because I already knew how to use a phone. My cell phone now didn’t come with instructions, but they are available on line for download. But most people dont read them, so companies no longer produce them. Every smart phone has more features built in than 99% of phone users even know about. Add to that the thousands of Apps available and the emmense volume of utility is staggering and yet most people are totally unaware of it unless someone they know points it out to them. Word of mouth still dominates the advertising market.
Same with “smart TV”. Everyone knows how to use a TV. No one needs instructions. But now they come with features and most users don’t have a clue how they work or how to get the best functions from them. They know on-off and changing the channel.
I bought a new LED work light before Christmas for my basement remodeling project. It has no moving parts. It doesn’t generate enough heat to cause burns. The “glass” face isn’t glass so there is no breakage hazard. You cannot change the lightbulb or any other internal parts. It has a single on-off button. It came with 21 pages of instructions.
The local WaaWaa (gas station/convenience store/deli chain in Virginia) has a new soda machine. A single dispenser can produce all of your favorite name brands, or any mix thereof you care to have. I watched an old man there yesterday just staring at it. He just wanted a coke. He knew how to use the old one. Push one lever to get ice, another to get your drink. This one had touch sensitive spots on a glas display panel. He couldn’t tell they were controls. It looked like an advertisement sign. He eventually walked away to get a bottle from the refrigerator case.
The latest thing I saw at Best Buy is a sound system for your TV (don’t TV’s already come with speakers??). This sound system made a big deal about using “tube technology” to create that “warm analog sound”. WTF? Weren’t marketers telling us digital was all the best there ever was only a few years ago? Did they run out of new and better stuff already and decided to pitch a retro tech? Wasn’t that “warm analog sound” really just hiss and distortion that digital filters could clean up? Tubes are not just a step back, they are three steps back. (Digital chip, analog chip, analog solid state, glass tube).
I love tech. It makes life better in so many ways. Our older people though are not as mentally flexible. They will not be able to adapt. Every year I am faced with more products that I simply say no to because I can’t see the utility in them. I wonder how many years I have left before I stare, slack-jawed at common device and find myself unable to operate it. I wonder what product for me is going to be the blinking light that was on my grandfather’s VCR always flashing 12:00. Or for my mom, thinking that pressing a touch screen on her phone harder makes it connect better. For her, “swiping” and “pinching” are all just mumble-jumbo randomized magic and she just wants it to stop so she can call her sister.
Fortunately, America will become a third world country and use less tech in the future.