10 high-tech gadgets I can live without

Think all IT pros go crazy over tech tools and toys? Not Alan Norton. In fact, he may be approaching geek heresy with his take on these popular devices!
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Think all IT pros go crazy over tech tools and toys? Not TechRepublic's Alan Norton. In fact, he may be approaching geek heresy with his take on these popular devices.

I didn’t think it could happen, but it has. I’ve become old school. It wasn’t all that long ago when I was but a young pup punching Hollerith cards in the basement of the University of Arizona’s Computer Science building. I do find myself in part now longing for the simple days when IT was called MIS and 640K was considered enough memory for a PC.

There are new technologies others crave that I shun. One of my neighbors, Chuck, is a true lover of new technology. He has a robot named RoboSapien, and he just ordered a roving robot named Rovio that has WIFI and a Web cam. He tells me he wants to keep track of his Shih Tzu puppy, Bodhi, but I know a tech-obsessed person when I see one.

I like bleeding edge technology, but there are some high-tech devices I can live without.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: The most annoying techno-gadget ever, AKA the cell phone

I had to use a cell phone as a requirement of my last job but I didn’t have to like it. It was so small, I felt foolish talking into thin air, as if I were talking to some great invisible cosmic force and not a person. Are people really willing to accept limited coverage, lousy connections, roaming charges, and expensive monthly bills for phone-freedom? Obviously they are. According to Wikipedia, there were 4.6 billion cell phone subscriptions at the end of 2009.

Even those who can’t live without one have to admit that they are often annoying beyond human endurance. And the photos they take can lead to all kinds of problems.

There are other issues, as well. When driving, you have to watch out for the cell phone packing motorist. When carrying one, you have to worry about being tracked. When using one, you have to worry about the controversial possibility that the thing is slowly cooking your brain. This is progress?

2: Electronic leashes, AKA the pager

These nasty little devices ensure that your workday never ends at 5:00. Just as soon as you forget that you are tethered to the job, the bleeping thing goes off and blasts you back to reality.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, which salivated at the sound of a bell, I became conditioned to respond to the call for action. Upon hearing that awful beeping sound, the neurological connections in my brain were further solidified, linking the horrid device to the interruption of my peaceful evening. Is it any wonder I despise these insidious little technological monstrosities?

3: Slower-than-your-desktop-computer computers, AKA the laptop

At my last job, our group supported the national CSC help desk with new systems and software. Routine travel was part of the job. We were a new group and, no doubt due to a limited budget, we were given laptop computers and docking stations instead of desktop PCs. They were heavy. They were slow. They had lousy screens. Yes, they have gotten much better. But dollar for dollar, they still perform much worse than a desktop computer. Ever try developing on a laptop?

4: Virtual spies, AKA the Web cam

Why in the world would I or anyone else want to show the world how they look in the morning? Why should I have to shave before sitting down to my computer? Why should I have to feel that big brother is constantly peering over my shoulder? Okay, so you can turn the darned things off, but are you sure that electronic eyeball staring you in the face is really off?

5: Undercover agents, AKA RFID chips

I have no problem with companies or retail stores that want to track their inventory with RFID chips. I do have a problem when the shoes I purchased last year can be tracked wherever my not-so-little feet take them.

This is no longer science fiction. Companies as large as Wal-mart are preparing to use them for inventory control, theft prevention, and other well-intentioned activities. Unfortunately, unless some way is found to destroy them, remove them, or deactivate them before the customer leaves the store, the technology can be abused by those with less-than-noble intentions.

6: Wandering vacuums, AKA the Roomba

My best friend offered me a free Roomba and I turned him down. Why? Aside from the fact that I already had three vacuum cleaners, there was the question of the effectiveness of such a novel gadget. A battery-powered robot that automatically vacuums floors and is that small can’t do a good job, can it? It might have been a fun exercise to gut the innards, but eviscerating and sifting through the disjecta membra seemed somehow disrespectful.

7: Alice in Wonderland books, AKA the e-book reader

I use the computer more than eight hours a day; I sure don’t want to curl up with a good e-book at the end of a day. To be fair, I haven’t actually used an e-reader. But I have to question the expenditure of precious fun-tickets on another all-too-specific device that has more drawbacks than advantages.

Jason Hiner recently wrote an article questioning the value of the e-reader: Kindle 3: Is there still a place for dedicated e-readers? The consensus from you, patient reader, is yes. But to me, the e-reader is like the question “Why is a raven like a writing desk?

How long will it take the e-reader to disappear into oblivion like the Cheshire Cat?

8: Make-believe baseball, AKA virtual sports

In days gone by, kids actually hit round, leather-covered objects with sticks made out of wood. Now, every kid on the block has to have devices and video games that simulate baseball. Some even have man-machine interfaces that try to mimic reality while providing “exercise.” Users look completely foolish as they try to pitch or hit a virtual baseball that exists only in their mind and the bits inside a chip.

Will the smell of grass, the warmth of the spring sunshine, and the joys experienced by the kids on the neighborhood sandlot under an endless blue sky be forever lost?

9: The embarrasser, AKA the speakerphone

A speakerphone is certainly appropriate in a meeting where everyone is aware that it is in use. Unfortunately, it becomes a habit for those who are too lazy to pick up the handset and inconsiderate to the person on the other end of the line. And then there is that awkward and possibly career-ending moment when you make that clever not-so-amusing-to-your-boss comment about his mandated “stupid meeting,” not realizing that the speakerphone is on.

10: Please excuse my typos keyboard, AKA the virtual or miniature keyboard

I have received several emails lately that included a fascinating blurb at the end:
  • “Sent from my iPad”
  • “Sent from my mobile phone. Please excuse any typos.”

Sorry, but I am not buying in to the notion that I should forgive poor grammar, bad spelling, or indecipherable texting because the sender is using a device with a lousy keyboard.

A new language, texting shorthand, is often the language of choice on devices with downsized keyboards. In its purest form, it has little resemblance to the English language. Will the next generation communicate like this? (TGG - TextGen Girl; TGB - TextGen Boy):

TGG: ru goin 2 prt 2nite?

TGB: idk ru?

TGG:  y hoas 9

TGB: pu

TGG: 99 kpc

TGB: sys

TGG: lycylbb

TGB: rbay

(Shorthand messages from netlingo and Webopedia.)

I may be an OBX (old battle axe) or just plain OTH (over the hill), but I find that really annoying. In fact, any device that uses a too-tiny-for-my-fat-fingers keyboard is beyond annoying — it’s unusable.

The bottom line

New technologies can be wonderful, and so-called geeks embrace them and extol their virtues. But there is often a dark side to new technology. Sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes it’s not so obvious, possibly the result of the law of unintended consequences.

If you use any of the 10 gizmos listed above, more power to you. But please allow me the courtesy of disliking what I deem to be misguided technology run amok. And I guess that is the problem I have with a lot of the new technology. It is annoying, functions less effectively than tried-and-true devices, or is just plain unnecessary. I don’t need a refrigerator that takes inventory or a microwave oven that is connected to the Internet. These appliances are too clever by half.

I get why people like their smartphones. However, a mobile phone subscription does not give one license to be rude or inconsiderate of others. We as a society should be careful that we do not allow machines to take priority over people or allow the use of “innocuous” dehumanizing gadgets to replace quality face-to-face time.

Technology pushes on and who knows? Some of these new gadgets might actually end up benefiting mankind in some meaningful way. Even with all of their issues, whenever I see an iPad or a new smartphone, a deep voice in my head says “Alan, give yourself to the dark side.”

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