Sunday, June 21, 2015

Don't you love new technology? Maybe too much?

Are we too much in love with technology?  There seems to be not only unintended consequences affecting human life with our beloved technological advances, but an inane futility in our never ending pursuit of the next great invention.

The impetus of this post was my recent trip to the newly renovated Wendy’s in town.  There I encountered Coca Cola’s Freestyle,
The Fountain of the Future, soft drink dispenser.  The monstrosity is controlled by a giant smartphone-like touchscreen that enables the indoctrinated user to navigate through the not-so-user-friendly menus that feature every flavor variation in Coke’s repertoire.  

The incredible unsanitary premise of a machine that has every patron in the busy restaurant smearing their fingers across a communal surface-capacitance control device without regard to when or if anyone has washed their hands, prompted enough concern that I wrote Coca Cola, Wendy’s, the machine’s manufacturer, our local TV news and posted on multiple social media sites.  These dispensers have the very real potential to be ground zero in the next pandemic of infectious disease. 

My concern was met with everything from, “Leave your food and go wash your hands before eating” (yeah, right!), to a suggestion that I carry disinfectant clothes to wipe the screen first, to “I love those things, they are great!” to “Ask the cashier to get your soda from the drive-thru.”  There was a unanimous tacit agreement that eating a hamburger and fries with your bare hands after swapping sweat with the general unwashed public is not a good idea, but no one was ready to admit that the cool new technology might not be a good idea.

The unintended consequences of adaptive technology are changing the face of civilization.  How often do you see (perhaps even at home) a family dinner
eaten in silence as people stare into the screens of their smartphones?  This week there was a medical report released emphasizing the sedentary effects on health and antisocial behavior by the users of computers, tablets, phones and video games.  All of these essential gadgets are celebrated technological achievements, but unfortunately they are proving, in part, detrimental to their users.

Google Glasses and the Apple Watch are leading the way in wearable technology, perhaps usurping the potential worthiness of pierced eyeglasses and the subdural watch (I mean really,
who wouldn't want their glasses screwed permanently to their nose or their watch surgically implanted in their arm?)

Kraft foods and Intel have
collaborated in a kiosk technology that uses facial recognition and an interactive video interface to tell passers-by what they should be eating for dinner.  I doubt it will ever get as popular as the vending
machine that dispenses Korean Kimchi.  Of course after a meal of fermented and
highly spiced cabbage, you might also need the patented Gas Grabber to avoid the potential of social olfactory offenses.

Sometimes the next great thing is
not necessarily great.  Sure you can eat dinner in the sky, but before you get hoisted, you had better use the restroom.  There is no plumbing up there. 

You can download the latest iPhone app that will cross reference Facebook “check-ins” and Yelp posts to point you in the
direction of the nearest female (I must be really old fashioned; I use my eyes), but be careful if Elbo Room points you towards the men’s lavatory, there’s new
technology now that allows women to pee standing up.  (What do they do with the funnel when they're done?  I hope they already got their soda.)

Yes, technology is fun, but beware of the eventuality of its benefits.  Have you ever had your computer crash, television quit or your automobile break down?  Technology is not exactly reliable.  It makes me laugh when I hear friends and relatives speak of their paranoia of flying in an aircraft (and in the shadow of recent events, riding in a train) because they feel like they are not in control.  As an example, last night I was watching a movie with a lady-friend; there was the requisite car chase wherein the good guy had a partner riding with him as he crashed through the streets of Moscow. 
My friend remarked, “Oh my God, I could never ride shotgun during something like that.”  So what is technology’s answer: Google’s driverless cars?  Yup, I see nothing wrong with that, I mean the circuitry would never fail leaving the passengers helpless and without control.

All in all, I love technology as much as the next person; I just view it with enough skepticism that I am not blind to its pitfalls.  I would be the one looking behind the curtain when I had an audience with the Great and Powerful Oz,
and I am also the one who looks at the hands of the kid in front of me dispensing his cup of Cherry Coke, and wonder what he’s been doing since the last time his hands saw soap and water.

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