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Fred's Views

Ain't Technology Wonderful?

I was watching "Good Morning America" this morning when they unveiled "it". It is a two-wheeled (side by side, not in-line) people mover. It has a handle bar and looks something like a cross between a scooter and a hand cart (the two-wheeled, long handled device you use to move heavy boxes). It won't tip over and it can move at speeds of up to 12 miles per hour and even faster. There's no steering wheel or mechanism as such, and there's no accelerator or gear shift. You merely think like you're about to move forward and it moves. Think right turn and it turns right. As I understand it, it's not "reading your mind" but, rather, reading the involuntary movements you make when you are about to walk or turn. It runs on batteries and carries its own charger, just plug it in. Obviously, it is controlled by a computer. The U.S. post office, among several other companies are seriously evaluating it.

A consumer version should be available in limited quantities before the end of 2002 and the current target price is around $3000 (US). The inventor claims it will run (not continuously, obviously) for a full day and charges overnight. The top speed can be controlled by inserting the appropriate key. It is not certain what the top speed of the consumer version will be.

This is obviously a wonder of technology. It's hard to imagine how the inventors managed to keep this upright, not only the gyros, etc. to control it, but the actual physics involved in keeping such a tall device vertical. However, I'm not sure how practical it will be. In my experience, most people walk for exercise. If they actually want to go somewhere, they drive (or take public transportation). However, for people with limited mobility, this might be an alternative to the rather big and bulky scooters now in use.

The same inventor has also developed a wheelchair that can climb stairs and many other useful devices.

Some of us feel that technology is overwhelming us. We long for the "good old days" when life was simpler and technology only rarely intruded. I've got to be honest. I don't wish for the "good old days". They really weren't all that good. Life was simpler: get up in the morning, dress and eat breakfast, rush out to work. Put in 8 to ten or more hours, usually hard labor, and come home to dinner and then, likely as not, to bed. There was little leisure time. And, if you had leisure time, there wasn't a whole lot of things to do with it.

I still remember the saturday night square dances my parents often attended. And Sunday was for church. Our church's services didn't start until 2:30 in the afternoon. So, while the service itself was only an hour or so long, church still seemed to fill up the whole day. Now, I would begrudge the time to attend a dance, and, at the moment at least, find it difficult to have the time or energy to attend church regularly. I still don't have the leisure time my generation was promised twenty or thirty years ago, and, unfortunately, it seems unlikely my children will have an abundance of leisure either. Still, technology has improved my life immeasurably. It's hard to imagine that I have only had a computer in my home for twenty years. How ever did I manage without one?

The microwave, dishwasher, VCR, and numerous other devices have changed the way we live. Granted, there's still room for a lot of improvement in the way these devices communicate with us (especially the VCR), but the future holds ever more changes. I have been waiting for quite some time for "smart" appliances. I think it would be very useful if all my appliances could communicate with a central device, most likely a computer. No only could the computer monitor their efficiency, but it could schedule their work cycles to fit my needs. For example, the computer could make sure the dishwasher and washing machine do not operate and the toilet doesn't flush while I'm taking a shower. The computer might even be able to regulate the temperature of my shower (something between too hot and too cold would be nice, for a change).

I would really love to see a VCR that communicates with my computer. Imagine having a nice screen of information with the ease of setting up recording times exactly as you want. And my computer could remind me when it's time for my favorite show. It can do this now, just not as "automatically" as I would like.

About the only magazine I read on a regular basis is Popular Science. I love finding out about new gadgets. I just wish my pocketbook would allow me to become an early adopter. I usually adopt new technology about mid-stride. For example, my CD writer cost me about 1/4 as much as early adopters and works up to four times as fast. But current machines cost about 50% of what I paid, and can work at up to four times faster than mine. This Christmas we may finally be buying a DVD player. The price is now almost as low as a VCR, and certainly as low as VCR's were four or five years ago. So the price is right. I confess I have no idea which DVD to buy. I haven't done my homework in this area, so I really don't understand the differences between models. I don't believe that DVD manufacturers or retailers have done a good job selling these machines. It wasn't nearly as difficult picking out a good VCR.

Of course, I would really love a new high-definition TV. From what I saw last week at Future Shop, prices haven't moved much yet, still about $5,000. That's way too much money for me. A new TV is probably a good four or five years away, unless we get robbed again.

The only regret I have about technology is that it changes too fast. People with some money burning holes in their pockets have traditionally traded in their cars every two or three years. It's an expensive habit, especially since there is often little difference between the models. However, even though cars depreciate so fast, they retain their value much better than high technology devices like computers do. After two or three years, your computer could still be as good as it was when new (unlike a car which may be showing certain signs of wear and tear), but technology has advanced so much that your computer appears to be sluggish. The hard drive is probably too small and some other devices have appeared that won't work well on your machine. But you can't trade it in because it is essentially worthless. So you suffer with your old machine, or buy a new one. I am typing this on my notebook which is about 20 months old. The hard drive is full. Otherwise, it still fits my needs reasonably well. But, for less than what I paid for this machine, I could now buy a processor that is 250% faster, a hard drive that is 300 - 400% bigger and other toys and goodies that make me drool. But the bottom line is I can't afford it and, if I am honest with myself, except for the cramped hard drive, I really don't need a new machine yet. But give it another year or 15 months, and we'll see.

Copyright © 2001 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.

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