Left Coast / Right Coast: Technology run amok

I, for one, am delighted with all the modern things we have in our lives. But our "smart" devices are so complex, things are getting out of control.
Mike Gold living the dream in the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Katie Stearns.

By Mike Gold, A retired entrepreneur living the dream in the Pacific Northwest.

I, for one, am delighted with all the modern things we have in our lives. But our "smart" devices are so complex, things are getting out of control.

First, a history lesson. The invention of the Internet is a great place to start.

Since Bolt Baranek & Newman, working for ARPA (Advanced Research Project Agency) developed the early packet switching technology (through which the Internet functions), our technology has accelerated worldwide.

Let’s take a look at some of the things in our daily lives that have improved and/or enhanced our ability to function as a society with the Internet.

E-mail: In fact the BB&N work led to the natural outgrowth of e-mail. One could also say that the Merit Computer Network (also partially funded by ARPA), was also an early platform on which e-mail was developed.

E-mail is the principal force that is slowly driving the Post Office out of business. More and more e-mail is used for creating documents and sending/receiving them instead of using the traditional hard copies.

There are many applications that allow documents to be signed by the recipient of an e-mail and return them as a legal document. So why would one bother to create a physical print of something, then put an expensive stamp on it and mail it – taking two to ten days to arrive at its U.S. destination?

Next on my list is the invention of the personal computer.

IBM introduced the first PC in 1981. It ran on the command line operating system called DOS (disk operating system) that Bill Gates developed for them. 

At about that same time at their Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), Xerox was developing an operating system for their advanced Alto computer using the first computer Graphical User Interface.  This operating system was the forerunner to Apple's Macintosh operating system and subsequently Microsoft Windows. 

The story goes that after Steve Jobs was given a tour of the PARC facilities, Apple developed the Macintosh, which was released in 1984. Then when IBM introduced the first Windows 1.0 operating system on its PC in 1985, Jobs called up Gates and screamed at him over the phone threatening, “I’m going to take 90 cents of every dollar your company takes in forever.”

Needless-to-say, that did not happen as Xerox could have made the same copyright infringement claim on Apple. (Legally, it is difficult to win such a case – as the “look and feel” cannot be copyrighted.)

Now I argue that the rapid development of these graphical user interfaces is what has created the “downhill” slope for many of us.

For example, Microsoft introduced Windows 10 after the disastrous Windows 8 release – which many say was the reason Steve Ballmer was fired as CEO of Microsoft. Windows 10 is really the successor to Windows 7 – of which there are today still more copies running than now three years after the Windows 10 introduction. Why? Because Windows 10 is more complex and difficult to learn for those of us accustomed to Windows 7.

It took the Geek Squad (at Best Buy) to get all my favorite web sites copied from my Win 7 machine to my Win 10 one. The entire way Win 10 functions are considerably different than Win 7. So many users of Win 10 are using perhaps 5% of the functions of Win 10. And many more simply refuse to upgrade to Win 10 (myself included).

Same with our Smart Phones. It took me about ten minutes to figure out how to get the screen display to “auto rotate” so that if you turn the phone 90 degrees the display rotates automatically.

I still haven’t figured out how the computer display in my wife’s car works. And I have to catch myself from getting too involved in trying to make it function while actually driving the car. Hence the laws in many states that make it illegal to use your smart phone while driving.

In fact, there is some blow back by both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration that are working to “simplify” all the electronic distractions in many modern cars. Their claims are that drivers get too distracted while driving – thereby not paying attention to the road. I agree that this is a problem.

Now all I’m asking is that these same agencies work to simplify all our home electronics. My smart TV is much smarter than I am. Even our two washing machines in our home operate so completely differently, that I am incapable of doing a wash. Same with the smart thermostat that runs our home heating and a/c system.

All I can say is “help.”


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