Most of us spend some amount of our daily, new-fangled lives dealing with technology. From smart phones, to websites, to the latest gadgets and gizmos, we peck and poke and prod our way through terabytes of data, music, videos, and pictures just so we can laugh at the latest lolcat. Is this the best we can do? There are times I spend hours thinking I'm catching up when, in the end, I've fallen behind in work, house cleaning, and living my life.
Today's tech falls short in a number of ways. One is that it requires my attention. I don't mean simply the alert “you've got mail.” I mean, to read that email I first have to pick up a device, look at it, and poke a bit. My eyes and hands have to do something other than what they were doing. Sometimes, having these devices is like having a sick pet; you stop everything to take care of it. They can distract as much as the help in your daily life. Sometimes they're productivity eliminators.
As if that weren't bad enough, they're not always reliable. A couple of years ago we took a vacation to Fort Myers Beach, FLA. For those who aren't familiar, it's an island, just off the coast by Fort Myers. One morning, driving around Sanibel Island, desperate for a latte, I navigated our rental car’s cumbersome GPS interface to find the nearest Starbucks.
As an aside, there's one flaw right there. I really didn't want a Starbucks. I wanted a latte. Why can't I ask, “Find me the closest latte?” But, I digress...
The handy GPS informed us the nearest Starbucks was three miles away (it even drew a clever little arrow pointing “that-a-way”). Cool. I press the navigate button. Fifteen miles later (yes, you read that right) we pulled into said Starbucks. In fact, on the route here, we passed two other Starbucks – yes, we could have been rational and stopped at either of those, but we were determined to see just where the GPS thought the CLOSEST Starbucks had actually been. It became a matter of stubbornness at that point.
Another aside, the GPS creators could have put in some intelligence that noted, “Hey, if any Starbucks will do, why not try this one?” But, I digress...
You see, the term “closest” was as the crow flies. We were on an island. Bridges, water... Guess it thought I had a flying car...
It shouldn’t work this way. Yet I keep hoping. And every now and then I find evidence we're moving in the right direction. For example, my husband recently purchased a new toy called the Amazon Echo. It’s a voice activated speaker connected to our WiFi. We put her (you give it commands by saying “Alexa, …”, and so “her”) in the kitchen. While making our morning coffees, my husband can say, “Alexa, play WWOZ” or “Play WWNO” and she does. I'll walk in later and while making biscuits say, “Alexa, shuffle my faves” and she'll randomly play the songs from my Amazon playlist, “My Faves.” I don't have to look up. I don't have to press anything. It just happens.
Every glimmer of hope feeds my tech imagination. I envision a future where my fridge notices I've only got two eggs left and puts “eggs” on my shopping list. Where traffic tickets and car accidents are a thing of the past, because all of our cars are self driving – allowing me to sit back and write a book or watch a movie. Where the language barrier is torn down like the Berlin Wall, and we can just speak and be heard in whatever language people understand. Where they take a biopsy of a cancerous tumor, scan it, then inject little wee-little robots into the body that, find the cancer cells and destroy them.
Some believe that tech is getting in our way, that we have devolved back to our lizard brains, distracted by shiny objects and the status of the number of twitter followers we have. But I think we're just not there yet, and that technology will be its most useful when we hardly notice it at all.