Tech Cynic: "Where's the button?"
Internet of Things (IoT)

Tech Cynic: "Where's the button?"

Sometimes one has to despair for the future of the human race, or at least the part of it that believes that adding Bluetooth, internet, wireless or app connectivity to everyday devices, most of which have functioned perfectly for decades without such connections, is an unquestionably good thing, and that the resulting hybrid/abomination will sell like hot cakes to a desperately enthusiastic public.

Take an existing product, the theory apparently goes, and add something overly complex and feature-rich that does nothing to improve the original product's capability - and in some cases diminishes or compromises it - whilst adding complexity, expense and the near-certainty of catastrophic failure just after the warranty has expired. Unnecessary technology abounds at tech shows, but relatively little of it makes it into daily life.

The echoes of CES 2019 are still fading away, but I'm not going to write about some of the frankly pointless technology displayed there, for two good reasons. Firstly, others have done so already; and secondly, I wasn't there. I stopped attending such events years ago, partly because I stopped being invited but mostly because I could no longer maintain a willing suspension of disbelief, no longer convince myself that yes, there really could be a huge untapped market for an internet-connected foot-spa massager that reads out your new emails in Brian Blessed's voice.*

In my early tech-scribe days, the holy grail of unnecessary technology was the internet-connected fridge. I genuinely don't know now whether this concept originated as a serious idea or as an ironic example of the pointlessness of adding the internet to everything during the dotcom era, but I do know that such fridges exist, even now. I have no idea who buys them, nor why. I suspect that if I did meet such people, the sociocultural gap between their world outlook and mine might render communication impossible, like dolphins talking to monkeys.

I'm not so much interested in the unnecessary technology itself but the people who actually want it. Who buys such things? Not just the fridges, but all the other unnecessary technology that complicates the simple in everyday life? Who lives in that world, a world of not just internet-connected fridges but app-connected everything, a world where if an appliance or gadget or device hasn't got buttons and a screen, it's simply not trying hard enough? Who throws caution to the wind, abandons all pretence at necessary cynicism, blithely accepts the wildest imaginings of the fixed-smile-wearing technology marketing drones representing bafflingly-deluded R&D departments?

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Alex Cruickshank

Alex Cruickshank has been writing about technology and business since 1994. He has lived in various far-flung places around the world and is now based in Berlin.  

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