Our love/hate relationship with all the technology we "love"
Ever since graduating from Lego’s as an 4th grader, I have been consumed with gadgets and how they work. My first wave of electric and electronic gadgets included the electric train, digital watch, and yes even a Merlin, the Electronic Wizard! The Merlin was the iTouch of the day.
It had an 11 button pad that lit up and beeped to the games it supported.
(Of course you had to read the manual to learn how the games worked.) One of the first mass-market toys based on a true microprocessor, it was supposed to improve memory and be FUN at the same time.
Parker Brothers’ Merlin is notable as one of the earliest and most popular handheld games, selling over 5 million units during its initial run, and remained popular throughout the 1980s.
The games were quite dull by today’s standards, but the Merlin blew the doors off anything else that Christmas. My favorite toy that year played 6 games including tic-tac-toe, mindbender, music machine, and Blackjack. Okay tic-tac-toe?. eh… not so great. But Merlin had fabulous battery life, didn’t crash (unlike my train set), and would STILL worked if you dropped it, (unlike my Palm Pre).
Although my best gaming days are behind me, shiny new objects DO STILL esmerize this magpie. I just bought a USB Traktor DJ controller the size of a jumbo universal remote that fits in my briefcase and replaces about 30 lbs of audio gear. Very slick!
But WHY in an age where we are smarter and costs to build tech platforms is steadily dropping must we be FORCED to sustain a love/hate relationship with all the technology we truly LOVE? Hardware and software battle over ever scarcer resources. Music is more portable now but sound quality suffers.
And rampant “built in obsolescence” means my cell phone wont even last as long as my carrier contract. I distinctly remember reading about cell phones that would be upgradeable via software, and over the air. So much for that “breakthrough advance”.
So here is my list of Best / Worst products and why. Please add to the list and comment below as you see fit.
- Palm Pre – It’s simply a gorgeous phone. Maybe the best phone on the market. But the phone often slows down for no reason, the battery barely makes through a single day, and it has no protection on the edge of the touch screen. This means if it’s in your pocket when you disrobe onto a tile floor like I did, get ready to pay $100 for an INSURANCE replacement when the screen cracks.
- Google Chrome – it is hands down THE fastest browser I have ever used, either PC or Mac. It is simple and smart. My daughter said the other day “It just knows.” Downside: Random websites will not function properly such as Rhapsody, Netflix, Webex, etc. Still Chrome market share is rising (now 7%) while others are declining, so I believe this will create full compatibility over time.
- My Cable Company (Comcast). All home based digital services are provided with no big complaints, if a tad pricey at $170 a month for triple play with HBO. However, their on-demand charges are NUTS.. and have doubled in the last 18 months from $2.99 and $3.99 to $6.99 and even $8.99 for a 48 hour rental! Considering the low cost of distribution this is soaking their customers. I have switched instead to renting only from Itunes/AppleTV and boycott Comcast on-line.
- iPhone: the coolest phone (for now) that I have seen. I mean the interface is truly beautiful and unrivaled. But AT&T phone service make it entirely unusable as a phone in many parts of the country, especially Manhattan where my business takes me quite often. For the number of times my friends curse their iPhone, I will sit this one out. Lack of support for even limited Flash combined with a strategy to avoid this pervasive UI platform is the nail in the coffin for me I am afraid.
- iPad. It’s price point and service plan ($15/month for internet!? awesome) are the perfect combo, letting it compete squarely (or beat) with netbooks and readers. But it has no USB port, until you buy the accessory, no ability to print, and most of all, no file system to store spreadsheets, documents, or presentations (and no real apps for those productivity tools either).
Falling in love with your favorite platform, device, or service will be a risky choice it seems for years to come. In the mean time, stay happy. We have come a long way in our journey as a tech enabled society. We can pay bills in seconds with free online service from our banks. And though we may hate ATM fees, we love getting our money whenever we need it.
Merlin and his kind paved the way for countless tech aids and entertainment machines. Just think what devices we will have in 20 years time. I wonder if they will be able to play tic-tac-toe.