Modern Monsters

Somehow I had the notion that science is logical and therefore that technology should be logical. I keep finding evidence to the contrary.

It’s been noted often that the most basic feature of every computer is – at best – counter-intuitive. How do you turn a computer off? Press the “Start” button. That’s logical?

So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I got a new cell phone recently and couldn’t figure out how to turn it on. There are two telephone symbols, one red and one green. You turn it off by pressing the red phone. Logical. But how do you turn it on? I finally found someone who could explain it to me. Press the red phone.

But all this is advanced technology. Consider the humble desk phone. I remember the day when a phone had no buttons at all; you simply picked it up and told someone what you wanted and they took care of it. Now that was science in the service of humanity. Even today, a desk phone is simple compared with a cell phone or computer. But not simple enough. Last week my desk phone stopped functioning. Press a number and nothing happened. There was a day when you took a defective machine to a repair shop and got it repaired. That was then; this is now. It’s easier to throw it away and start again.

On technological issues like this, the buying gets done by my wife. She bought one with over-size letters on the theory, she said, that we should “plan ahead.” So I probably started with a bias against the machine, but today I thought I would use the delete function to eliminate the record of recent phone calls. There’s a delete button, so I pressed it. Nothing happened. I tried several times; same result.

When all else fails, look at the instruction book. Everything is described except the delete button. There’s a diagram that points to the “Delete Button” but nothing in the book to tell you how to use it. I took it to the technical expert who studied it carefully. “To eliminate the record of a call, press delete twice,” she read.

OK, I can handle that and I appreciate their caution in guarding against an impulsive action or misplaced finger. But where did you find it? “Under ‘erasing records.’”

Of course; why would you look for the “Delete” button under “Delete”? As a non-scientist, the logic continues to escape me.

It was simpler for Beowulf: you took a sword and slew the monster. Unfortunately, when science came in, swords went out, leaving most of us with no way to bring the modern monsters under our control.

1 Comment

MRWJune 7th, 2007 at 4:37 am

This where ‘intuitive’ wins over ‘logical’.

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