Saturday, April 22, 2006

Curious Quotations

Every so often I come across some short bit of text that underscores the stupidity of technology. I enter that text as the "Quote duJour."

Here are the previous selections:

"In a medical breakthrough, a Houston-based team of surgeons, working for seventeen hours in a risky, first-of-its-kind operation, are able to separate a twenty-one-year-old woman from her cellular telephone. She expires within hours, but doctors report that the phone is stable, and they expect its condition to improve dramatically 'once it finds a new host.'"

- from page 124 of "Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (So Far)," by Dave Barry

"Feudalism was based on a 'ladder type' of organizational structure, similar to Amway. You started out on the bottom rung, in the position of serf. This was not an easy job, but if you worked hard, followed the rules, did not complain, and were a 'team player,' after a certain period of time you fell off the bottom rung and died."

- from page 2 of "Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (So Far)," by Dave Barry

"'See, I can time them perfectly,' the [traffic] light said with satisfaction. 'I get hundreds of them each day. No one gets through my intersection without paying his tax in gas and rubber.'"

"'Go blow a bulb!' the car growled at the light.

"'Go soak your horn!' the light flashed back."

- from pages 187 to 188 of "Centaur Aisle," by Piers Anthony

"...there is a theory -- advanced chiefly by Steven Johnson in his 2005 book Everything Bad is Good for You -- that interactivity with machines and virtual worlds is making people smart in new and important ways.... Evidently, the neurotransmitter called dopamine (associated with craving) responds with high excitement when there is seeking and searching to be done. Johnson is specifically referring to -- and defending -- the attraction of video games, but I think the science applies also to the mental habits that attach to people who spend a lot of time on the internet or learning unfamiliar systems. 'Where our brain wiring is concerned,' he writes, 'the craving instinct triggers a desire to explore. The [dopamine] system says, in effect, Can't find the reward you were promised? Perhaps if you just look a little harder you'll be in luck -- it's got to be around here somewhere.' Games playing may have negligible effects on our morality or understanding of our world, Johnson admits, but it trains the brain wonderfully in decision-making. 'Novels may activate our imagination, and music may conjure up powerful emotions, but games force you to decide, to choose, to prioritize.'"

- from page 80 of "Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door," by Lynne Truss

"Say you phone a company to ask a question and are blocked by that Effing automatic switchboard. What happens? Well, suddenly you have quite a lot of work to do. There is an unacceptable transfer of effort. In the past, you would tell an operator, 'I'm calling because you've sent my bill to the wrong address three times', and the operator, who (and this is significant) worked for this company, would attempt to put you through to the right person. In the age of the automated switchboard, however, we are all coopted employees of every single company we come into contact with. 'Why am I the one doing this?' we ask ourselves, twenty times a day. It is the general wail of modern life, and it can only get worse. 'Why not try our self-check-in service?' they say brightly. 'Have you considered on-line banking?' 'Ever fancied doing your own dental work?' 'DIY funerals: the modern way.'"

- from page 24 of "Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door," by Lynne Truss

"It would be nice if we were taught as children a bit about how to actively use our brains, instead of just carting them around like spine-mounted lint rollers, hoping a few things stick."

- from page 88 of "Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!," by Bob Harris

"I was never even much of an engineer. What formal training I did receive was made useless by time itself. The 'advanced' computer language I studied as a sophomore was obsolete by the time I was a senior. Soon after my graduation, technology had accelerated so much that I might as well have studied Plowing With Oxen, Posing Naked On Ceremonial Pottery, or Things To Do With An Armored Codpiece."

- from page 6 of "Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!," by Bob Harris

"...the day someone pulls the plug out of the bottom of the universe, the chain will lead all the way to ... some bugger saying 'I just wanted to see what would happen.'"

- from page 136 of "Thief of Time," by Terry Pratchett

For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive -- you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure, of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same program.

- from page 96 of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," by Douglas Adams

"Simply fabulous," he whispered, indicating the automatic ticket machines. "Wonderfully ingenious."

"They're out of order," said Harry, pointing at the sign.

"Yes, but even so..." said Mr. Weasley, beaming fondly at them.

- from page 124 of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)," by J.K. Rowling

The following three snippets can be found in The Salmon of Doubt, by Douglas Adams:
  1. Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

We notice things that don't work. We don't notice things that do. We notice computers, we don't notice pennies. We notice e-book readers, we don't notice books.

We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works. How do you recognize something that is still technology? A good clue is if it comes with a manual.