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.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Lonely Man

    It was not his intention to go adventuring there.  He had confidants and advisors beckoning him to get out and socialize.  The solitude of his circumstances could only be cured by the company of people not yet met.  So reluctantly, he went.

    The familiar streets were crowded with unfamiliar faces, all looking past him as if he were invisible.  The passersby attentions all trained on their companions; there was no room for the lowly stranger in their midst.  

    The town was alive with revelry; noise came from all directions.  The din was both unbearably loud and totally indecipherable.  Laughter, shrieks, distant calls combined with the music of a dozen venues and a thousand muttered conversations to become a mélange of nerve challenging dissonance.

    His deliberate smiles and tacit hellos met empty eyes and averted glances; he ruminated that had he had ventured out completely nude, he was certain that his presence would have gone just as unnoticed.  He found no friends. 

    Transecting the calamity of tourists and locals, the need for a strong drink entered his mind.  Loitering with the unwitting expectation that a rescue squad of forgotten and neglected acquaintances from his previous life might somehow salvage the night, the possibility of an empty discourse with a professional conversationalist drove him to the nearest watering hole.  The unseeing crowd gave no yield to his incursion, and when by a series of widening detours, the lone man gained proximity to the bar, there were no voids for which he could fill.  Standing three back from his intended goal and gesturing in direct line-of-sight, his discomfort grew as the mute bartender proved as blind as the pedestrians on the street to his presence. 

    Backtracking through the inattentive throngs, he found the sidewalk equally as stifling as the dram shop.  Evasively wandering amid the swirling currents of street musicians, young lovers, generational families and cliques of back-slapping comrades enrapt in their secret mottled words and gestures, the lone man opened every unlocked door only to find over and over again, the same disconcerting crowd, each time wearing different faces.
     Nary a single smile could he garner, and the scant few moments of eye contact were colored with undertones of pity and misunderstanding.  He was alone not by choice, but yes, he was alone.

     At last the Heavens granted him some respite; the skies opened above the quaint town and dowsed it with a cleansing rain.  He now had unquestionable reason to slink back to the comfort of his lonely hovel, justified with his earnest attempt to appease the admonitions of those who bade him to go.