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Top Ten Disappointing Technologies, Part II

Topics: Technology | 2 CommentsBy admin | June 24, 2009

In part two of our list of Top 10 Disappointing Technologies, we find out why it’s cheaper to communicate with the Hubble Space Telescope than to text your mom.

See part one of this list here

American Cell Phones

Can you hear me now?

I have a friend in Chicago that can only use his iPhone in a four square foot area at the edge of his dining room that I call his “iZone”. Just today, my Verizon service repeatedly dropped calls and failed to send text messages in a major urban area. On the other hand, I’ve been in the middle of the bush in Kenya and had crystal clear, uninterrupted conversations with Europe. What is it that makes cell phone service in the states such a joke? Apparently it’s the plethora of protocols that are supposed to encourage competition, which is supposed to benefit the consumer. Which, as an occasional victim of the binding and punitive agreements providers feel compelled to enact because even they know their services suck, is definitely not what ends up happening. In fact, texting is four times more expensive than downloading data from the Hubble space telescope, which apparently amounts to a 4900% markup. Does anybody have the number for NASA’s sales department? I think I’m switching providers.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality hardware c. 2008

If you’d believed the hype about virtual reality that was whipped up by cyberpunk novels like Neuromancer or movies like Lawnmower Man over the past couple of decades, by now you’d be expecting to be able don a pair of VR gloves and punch out cybervillains in Chiba while shopping online by sampling the feel of various fine silks in some virtual shopping mall in India, all while having fully tactile cybersex with a lover in Bangkok. But no. So far all we have are Second Life, which – as we’ve said before – would be all fine and well if its users had a first one, and the The Sims, the pixelated imaginary world where one of the most amusing pastimes may be simply bending the rules to torture the residents. And those virtual shopping malls that were supposed to allow us to do everything we do in a real one without leaving the house? Forget it.

Video Phones

Though commonplace in the 50′s and 60′s,
they seem to have waned in popularity

Back in the 1950′s, there were amazingly functional video phones everywhere. Everywhere on the cartoon the Jetsons, that is. Unfortunately, real video phones have only been a promise perpetually “just five years away”, ever since AT&T demonstrated the concept at the 1965 World’s fair. The reality of video phones seems much farther than five years off. If you’ve used tools like Skype Video, for instance, you may be familiar with the freeze-frames, feeble audio, and jittery, artifact-laden images that make you feel like you’re talking to flipbook versions of your friends through a string can phone, rather than a 21st century technology, On a positive note, it’s much easier to call in sick or scream at hapless tech support people if you can’t see the person on the other end.

Voice Recognition

I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that Dave.
Did you say “I’d like to order new service”?

With hindsight, I think the classic scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey in which the astronaut repeatedly and futilely says to the ship’s computer “Open the pod bay door please, Hal” was really quite prescient. HAL simply had the same voice recognition software that the utility companies use to turn your simple calls into hour-long screaming fits and mind-boggling mazes of sub menus. And although the software is rather pervasive, my experience with using tools like Dragon NaturallySpeaking has left me feeling that talking into the mouse like Scotty in Star Trek IV might be just as effective.

The Combustion Engine

A series of managed catastrophes

From the moment you start your car, a series of catastrophes are set in motion, some that preceded your turning the ignition key, some little ones that occur as part of the engine’s operation, and some that will follow. What a weird idea, to dig filthy black waste from the depths of the earth, decimate the environment refining it into a combustible liquid so that you can power a motor with a series of small explosions that further damage the environment while you drive around by yourself in a vehicle that was probably designed for 4 or more people. Too bad there’s not a better way. Oh, wait. What’s this?

Read Comments

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