Technology is changing the world


Well of course it is. That’s hardly a shocking observation up there in the title of this essay.

The thing is, I’m finding that more and more the changes are happening so quickly that we are often considering the latest and greatest without even knowing about two or three other adjustments that had been made since we were last considering our needs… and that these two or three other adjustments were widely available.

In other words, technology is moving so fast, we can’t even keep up with it. All we can do is make an attempt every so often to jump aboard the moving train as it roars past. Things are happening that not only change the way we view our world, they are changing the way we experience it, interact with it, and navigate our lives because of it.

I’m going to give you two examples. Both go back a couple of years. (And for reason of clarity, along with ease of storytelling, I understand that certain questions and options may seem apparent and applicable. Ignore them. All I need is for you to agree the basics as conveyed are possible… and I feel confident you’ll agree with that.)

Tiny example number one… the purchase of a book

A few years ago, I wandered into the closest Barnes & Noble to my home. Actually, it was closer to my parents, and I happened to be visiting them that day. I wanted a copy of a book that was usually re-released with annual updates, knew the chain usually carried it as part of their regular inventory, and expected to find it.

I didn’t. But after a few questions for the staff, we ended in a place where they could order it for me.

Now… I am not exaggerating… it would have cost $50 for the book. Plus, I would have needed to drive 45-minutes back to the store (90-minutes round trip) to pick it up.

(See… you’re cheating. We had an agreement that you would ignore potential questions and options. Yes… yes… I could have used it as an opportunity to visit my parents again. Focus people. Focus.)

I got home and looked the book up… on the Barnes & Noble web site… and found it available there for $35 with free shipping. Even if the store was willing to match the online price (which, it turns out, they would not have at the time), there was obviously no reason to hop in the car for an hour and a half drive when it would be brought to my door for free.

Tiny example number two… a new washing machine

Tigg and I needed a new washing machine. Looked around a bit, found one, and set up delivery.

While setting up the cords and hoses and more, I was talking to the guys that brought it to our house. Two funny things that came up…

(1) I could set the machine up to send alerts to my smartphone. (You know… the smartphone that at the time I didn’t yet own. But more to the point… what a wonderful day and age where your washing machine can give you a call and tell you to move things over to the dryer.)

(2) A bit of this… a bit of that… a mention that they hoped to see me in five years when we replaced it. (Yeah… the planned obsolescence was being set at five years of service by the guys that were bringing my old machine back to their truck. An old machine that over its lifetime had been moved between four homes, in two states, over roughly seventeen years. And this one that had the ability to send a text was being given five years to survive.)

Now, much of the general ideas within these two stories go back to our opening concepts. Specifically, that technology is moving in a way and at a pace that “…not only change the way we view our world, they are changing the way we experience it, interact with it, and navigate our lives because of it.”

About ten to fifteen years ago the idea of our refrigerator getting a computer virus seemed outrageous. Not so outrageous today.

We’re supposed to be an environmentally conscious group these days. Good people loving the planet. I’m having a bit of difficulty with that when washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, and basically each and every appliance in our house is being built with its replacement date a significant part of its design. Seems that fridges having a lifespan at least a third of what they used to have would add to the landfills.

But maybe that’s too simple and naïve. I get it… recyclable parts and such make that idea of trashing things more quickly a bit of an unfair joke. That may be true. Still…

Are things really better? Is new honestly improved?

If we want to consider the timing of our jumps onto the moving train… we could look at cars. Because I think the same concept of whether or not we are throwing out dryers more quickly can be offset by noting that we seem to be holding on to our cars for longer than ever. This item is leaving our house for the scrapyard sooner… that one is staying with us longer… a bit of this opposed by a bit of that.

Which, in turn, would lead us to manufacturing costs, repair costs, back into planned obsolescence thoughts… and you see the general idea. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Kind of.

But not really.

Again, your fridge could have a computer virus.

The other day, I got a call. Dad was having troubles with his printer, and figured he might have reached a point where a new printer was in order. His was so old that while checking a few things he had been told that the company was literally selling the last of their ink cartridge inventory in that style with no more being made. His was so old that he had been told that the company was no longer providing software updates for it. Yeah… it was time to replace it.

As he was narrowing down his choices, he found that the model he wanted wasn’t being carried by a local store. He had three options for getting it… (1) Drive an hour, there and back, to a different store that did have it. (2) Order it at the local store and pick it up there later in the week. (3) Go to the store’s web site, which had a discount code available that allowed him to purchase it for an extra 10% off the price options 1 and 2 offered, and have it dropped off at his home with free shipping.

His choice was fairly simple.

Funny side note about printers. It’s almost cheaper to buy a new printer than it is to replace the ink cartridges for it.

And by funny, I mean sad. Since if you do your homework and catch the sales right, it’s not almost cheaper to buy a new printer. It is cheaper. We can discuss ink levels in starter cartridges for as long as you want, the reality is some printer prices now make it a verifiable fact. Cheaper to replace the whole thing.

(We will now pause for a moment as we return to that planned obsolescence concept when it came to replacing your washing machine. We’ve moved on from that swapping out an old machine for a new machine idea. It’s no longer how often changes in household items are taking place in what we might consider an even exchange, old for new, service expectancy. In the printer world it actually has reached a point where casting aside a perfectly good and working machine is cheaper than buying the ink to use it. This is not quite, but humorously close enough to make the joke, roughly the equivalent of junking a fridge because you’re out of ice and the delivery guys will fill the trays on the new one.)

Are we really moving into places where our actions are better and smarter than yesterday’s? Are we collectively new and improved? Or have we just managed to change the paint on our problems?

My general answer would be yes… we are better and smarter… we are new and improved… and in general we’re moving in brilliant and interesting directions. But then I saw a funny joke yesterday…

You’ve heard the idea that vinyl records keep strengthening their comeback, yes? The joke was that the reason that vinyl albums sound better has nothing to do with the way the music is being delivered. It’s not vinyl versus cassette versus compact disc versus 8-track and so on. It’s because the music made forty and fifty years ago and placed on vinyl is better music than what is being recorded today and placed on a computer file.

And before you go getting into some defensive stance on that… joke people. Look behind it for where I’m going.

In and of itself, technology can be wonderful. Advancements can be steps forward. It can also be absolutely amazing to watch what happens when it disappears.

Ever been someplace when the power is knocked out for an extended period of time? Hurricane hits… blizzards and freezing temperatures… stuff like that, causing massive interruptions in electrical service.

No power for recharging phones and tablets.

No power to run WiFi options.

We consider radios and batteries to be old school technology. Outdated. Unnecessary. Pick up a streaming service… watch a movie or play a game or be entertained on a mobile device… there’s an app for that.

It can’t be just the technology. Part of it has to be the journey to accomplish it. And if I’m standing in the middle of a store, giving serious consideration… absolutely justified consideration… to a decision involving buying four ink cartridges or a new printer that will come with ink… we most certainly are the equivalent of a deer standing in technology’s headlights.


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