Technology makes our life easier, doesn’t it?
- We used to wake up at dawn and go to bed at dusk; now we work till midnight and rest by playing Halo afterwards.
- We used to work fixed hours and respond to messages within a few days; now we are on call 24/7 and drop everything as soon as our front pocket says oh-oh.
- We used to create things with our muscles and relax in our free time; now we create things on a keyboard and use our free time to exercise our muscles.
So yeah, I guess “easier” isn’t really the right word. In fact, “busier” seems to be more appropriate at times. But it still doesn’t mean we should drop everything and go buy a farm in Idaho, right? Technology is a tool, and like any tool it has both positive and negative applications.
Being a nerd myself, I love to discuss new technologies and exciting breakthrough. But every once in a while I’m tempted to pause for a second and, instead of discussing the next coolest thing, try to step back and see the bigger picture. Are all our innovations useful? Do all of them contribute to the quality of our lives? Let’s examine a few and find out:
Exhibit A: An app to organize photos you shared on the web
Sounds useful, right? So many people keep complaining about their shared photos being scattered all over the place, and being unable to organize or even remember what’s where. This app seems like a godsend.
But let me reframe the situation a little – you created the problem by using technology to scatter this stuff in the first place, and now you’re trying to invent solutions to unscatter it? Does that seem like progress to you?
Exhibit B: A video game that keeps children engaged while teaching them how to read
80% of our highschool grads are functionally illiterate and the results are evident everywhere. If only we could find a way to keep children reading instead of playing video games all the time, we could.. wait a minute..
Our children were more literate BEFORE we invented video games, and now that video games made them illiterate and innumerate, you want to use another video game to fix it?
Exhibit C: Self-driving cars
We need to commute from home to work and vice versa. Older transportation methods suck. Motorcycles are about as safe as kamikaze planes (you know that kamikaze pilots wore helmets too, right?). And cars end up in traffic, or crash, or both – because drivers suck too.
Even in studies where they place 10 drivers on a circular track and give them precise instructions to keep a constant speed and constant distance from the car ahead of them, it takes less than 3 minutes for a traffic jam to occur (I’m not making this up, I swear). So as long as humans drive cars, transportation will be a nightmare.
But if we manage to build cars that cut human drivers out of the equation — keep a constant speed and actually know how to merge (I wish humans knew how to do that!) — we can save lives, save money on road-building, AND help 2 billion people save an hour every day that would otherwise be wasted in traffic. That’s 2 billion hours a day, 730 billion hours a year, or ~60 trillion hours in your lifetime.
Now that’s something worth working on!
Exhibit D: Motion analysis software
We’ve been hiring coaches and trainers for ages to teach us how to perform certain movements. We can learn math from a textbook or language from tapes, but somehow we always need to hire other people to learn movements. And even these other people miss some of the nuances and can’t show us what needs to be done.
But with a 3D camera and some smart software on the backend, you can see how your favorite athlete performs the movement, repeat it, and get exact corrections and comparison in real-time. Personally, I’d want to hire the virtual equivalent of Freddy Roach or Greg Jackson – maybe they’ll succeed where all others have failed and finally teach me how to hit like a boy…
[Fair Disclosure – I’m working on this software right now]
In the decade (or so) I’ve spent working in the high-tech world, I’ve developed a basic smell test – a technology is only useful if it solves an existing low-tech problem and doesn’t create new high-tech ones. And by existing problem, I mean something that people:
a) really want to solve,
b) have already tried to solve by low-tech means, and
c) failed to solve in a way that doesn’t suck.
Unfortunately for all of us, most innovations on the market today don’t pass this test. Solving actual problems just doesn’t seem cool enough. As an industry, we spend way too much time solving artificial problems that we created in the first place, when instead we should be solving problems that have existed long before we were born.. and CAN be solved.
Author Bio:- Alex Fink is an engineer, an entrepreneur, and the founder of One Motion Metrics – a software startup that uses the Kinect to teach technique in sports. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org