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Smart Technology--Anticipating Our Every Inconvenience

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Headlined to H3 12/10/09

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The doctors were baffled. They had just moved into newly built offices and couldn't find the light switch to look at X-rays. They buzzed for the office manager.

"The new light system runs by sensors," she told them, not quite making eye contact. "The lights turn on by themselves when they sense it is dark outside." Oops.

She did not need to add they'd be viewing the X-rays at night.

The public library's water bill tripled. The sensor flushing toilets "perceived" a need to flush before, after and during usage--as well as when the stall door opened or an air current hit.

The electricity bill at the library went up too thanks to sensor-controlled hand driers which set off every time a woman walked past them with a 747-like noise.

In fact the only sensor-driven appurtenances in the library's state of the art bathroom which weren't overly anticipatory were the faucets. Women stood in front of them--setting off the hand driers--and tried their entire repertoire of hand signals from papers, scissors, rock to the drying-the-nails wave to get them to give up a little water. Sometimes the faucet did but it was either too hot or only a dollop (or both) leaving soap on women's hands as they proceeded to dry them with toilet paper which everyone does when there's only a hand drier.

Which facilities purchasing genius made the decision to save women the "labor" of turning on the faucet or hand drier or flushing the toilet while wasting untold gallons of water and kilowatts of power? Who saved the doctors the "labor" of flipping on a light switch?

Patrons would have preferred a hook on the wall and stall door to keep their purses and coats from being de facto floor mats (hello?) or soaked from the counter's sink puddles if the library wanted to upgrade. They would have preferred working locks on stall doors so they weren't holding the door with one arm and their coat, purses and packages with the other while the toilet went through its status flushus.

And how about those delightfully anticipatory web browsers? Saving the "effort" of three key strokes at the price of the wrong search?

Try to look up the Miranda decision for a paper you're writing and the "helpful" wizard presumes to enter for you... Michael Jackson. Similar, right? Try again and the browser supplies...Miley Cyrus.

Search for cancer symptoms in the state of mind such a search might engender and the perky web browser pitches Carrie Underwood? Carrie Prejean? Close?

What if you want to warn someone about a web site that is swarming with malware but obviously not go there--or send the person there--yourself. In philosophy this is known as the symbolism problem--not mistaking the finger for the moon when someone points. Raise your hand if your text editor fashions a hyperlink and whisks you--and the person you're writing--to the site you fear, just like pop-ups commandeer you to their site before you can stop them. Just being helpful.

How about email programs that remember and recreate a 2-year-old address typo you entered when you were in a hurry like "assfist" instead of "assist"? Like a cyber version of the old diet dictum--a moment on your lips forever on your hips? There must be a way to delete this error-in-perpetuity feature (and the one that hyperlinks anything with a dot) if you weren't still in a hurry.

Finally, there are the smart web sites that have profiled you and know you drink Grey Goose, follow Oprah and strive to be a size 5. What they don't know is people who buy a "sleek black indoor rowing machine" that "replicates actual rowing feel" aren't likely to do so every week.

"Need an indoor rowing machine, today?" serial emails from the site ask you anticipatorily, ready for another $900 this week and every week.

 

Martha Rosenberg is a health reporter and commentator whose work has appeared in Consumers Digest, the Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, New Orleans Times-Picayune, Los Angeles Times, Providence Journal and Newsday. She serves (more...)
 
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