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May 14, 2003

Inheriting the Earth

If there is anything one can be sure of about the immediate future, it's this. It will posses an inordinate fondness for buttons. Take the new Nokia, for instance

photo via yahoo

It's a phone, a radio and a game deck. I count 25 buttons minimum, which sounds like a lot, but is actually a triumph of design. My two year old and thus incredibly obsolete Startac has 23, and all it does is call people. Once I upgrade, I can play games, listen to the radio and maybe even call people on the same device for a mere extra two buttons. Ten to one I'll be able to surf the net and IM as well. One might think that this would reduce the overall number of number of buttons in my life, but one would be assuming that I would be tossing a perfectly good radio in order to listen to a one speaker phone. One would also be assuming that I would be playing video games on a screen slightly smaller than a Saltine cracker, which is insane. Those two buttons are just two more buttons in my life, buttons that may as well be located in my left nostril for all the use they will be.

Actually, they'd probably get pressed more there. "No, I'm not picking my nose," I could tell the wife. I'm playing Tony Hawks Pro Skater!"

My new universal remote has over 50 buttons. My pager has 36, almost all of which perform multiple tasks depending on what other buttons are pressed. I have no idea what to do with most of them, of course. It's not that I lack the ability to understand what all the functions of each device, rather I lack the inclination. I have better things to do with my time than to learn how to make my universal remote send email. I know it can, it has a little email icon on it. I hate the little icon. I am surrounded all day by things that can send email, and should I feel the desire to send email from something other than a computer, I'll use my cell phone. Or my wife's cell phone, if she can find it in the black hole that is her handbag. Or my pager.

On day soon, every device on the planet will be able to perform all the functions of every other device on the planet, just not as well, or as conveniently, which means that everyone will have multiple universal devices.

All with buttons. Lots of buttons. Buttons that do things and buttons that make those buttons do different things. Ergonomists will go take to bed with migraines every night. It will be a m.u.d., m.u.d, m.u.d, m.u.d world. A future wag will say "People are just a button's way of making more buttons."* Most of these buttons, just like the buttons of today, will cry out to be used. That cry will go unheard, for most people, just like today, will find pushing the more functionally obvious buttons on another machine a more efficient use of their time than learning the ways of the less functionally obvious buttons on the device at hand. Yes, I'll be able to surf the web from my blender, but why would I want to?

But this too, should pass. It is the immediate future I'm talking about, not the day after that. Ergonomics will march on, and eventually voice recognition will be as ubiquitous as buttons, and your heartmonitor will be smart enough to email instructions to the blender the moment "strawberry daiquiri" passes your lips.

What if the software fails, or the microphone on the heart monitor breaks? Never fear. In case of a failure in the voice recognition system, one can just use the buttons.

*And others will say "That wasn't funny the first time."

Posted by Bigwig at May 14, 2003 01:20 PM | TrackBack
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