Friday, January 16, 2015

A Critical Need

"Aside from issues of life and death, there is no more urgent task for American intellectuals and writers than to think critically about the salience, even the tyranny, of technology in individual and collective life. All revolutions exaggerate, and the digital revolution is no different. We are still in the middle of the great transformation, but it is not too early to begin to expose the exaggerations, and to sort out the continuities from the discontinuities. The burden of proof falls on the revolutionaries, and their success in the marketplace is not sufficient proof...

Every technology is used before it is completely understood. There is always a lag between an innovation and the apprehension of its consequences. We are living in that lag, and it is a right time to keep our heads and reflect. We have much to gain and much to lose."

Leon Wieseltier
an essay in this Sunday's New York Times Book Review

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Keyless for the Brainless

Phones and other electronic devices may be smarter, but people are heading the other way into a brainless stupor.

It's not just the kids who literally cannot be separated from their phones without psychological and even physical trauma.  There's an even more serious form of dependency, and it is becoming less and less avoidable, even for those who reject it.

For instance the keyless car.  An item in Consumer Reports recently affirmed that new cars in all price ranges are coming equipped with this technology.

What is this electronic marvel?  It allows you to start your car without sticking a physical key into a physical slot.  You just push a button on your device, known as the key fob (even though there is no key attached to it.)

What a miracle!  You can start your car with your hands full of something else--your smartphone probably.  Although you've had to push a button on the fob to get into the car, and then you still have to push another button in the car.  But you don't need that damn inconvenient key.

So let's start with the basic rule of electronic wonders in and on your car, which is that, for all their benefits, they are each something else that can go wrong.  Usually more than one something else.  And almost always nothing you can fix yourself.

So there are things that can go wrong with your fob, such as the batteries, and if you don't have a backup system (electronic or key), you're screwed.  You ain't moving.  It may mean a tow, and it definitely means time and money.

But that's minor compared to the much more likely possibility--you misplace or lose the fob.  Then without a mechanical key system, you are really really screwed.  And CR says replacing the fob could cost hundreds of dollars, and who knows how much time and trouble.

Think about it.  When somebody swiped my jacket with my car keys in the pocket, I got someone to drive me home, wait a minute while I got my duplicate key, then he drove me back to my car.  Duplicate keys cost a few bucks, and you can make as many as you want and stow them in as many convenient places as you wish, so losing your car keys is not a catastrophe.

But for the dubious benefits of a "keyless" ignition, you still have to have that fob (although eventually there will be an ap on your phone device, which will make losing that even more catastrophic), and the cost of losing it is much much greater than losing that terrible old fashioned key.

Behind this is the survival principle of redundancy, along with hedging your bets with alternatives (a gas stove that operates even when the electricity is off, etc.)  Everybody loses stuff, so you cut down the consequences with redundancy (i.e. duplicate keys.)  That is, while you can still buy a car that allows you to start it with a key.

And that's the most brainless part of it.  An entire society so dazzled with new toys that they never bother to think ahead to what could go wrong, and what the comparative consequences might be. It's great for the car companies etc. who sucker you into this, and then charge you hundreds of dollars for a fob, and thousands for extra electronic toys that may or may not improve the operation of your vehicle, but certainly make it harder and more expensive to repair.  When something goes wrong.  And something always does.

  But you have no alternative.  How smart is that?

Monday, January 12, 2015

At the Speed of Tweet

It's hard to know what to say about the events surrounding the assassinations of cartoonists in Paris, except that they've happened with blinding speed: from the horrific incident to international protest involving millions of people including European heads of state leading a march in Paris of up to a million and a half people, to becoming a fashion statement at a show business award show, and the backlash to the response (for example here and here.)

Meanwhile, here's an interesting post at Daily Kos about one of the cartoonists who was assassinated, at the age of 74.  It suggests the dangers inherent in the reaction, understandable and necessary though they might be, increasing police and military presence and power.  That and the accelerated right wing and racist bushwah.

 On the whole though, it strikes me that the Europeans are handling this with a lot less inflated panic and hyperbole than the Bushites did 9/11.  Or that the right wing here continues to do,  focusing on the US participation in the Paris event, which the White House clumsily has made into a bigger story today.  But it's a story only in US politics, not in Europe.

Insight Ephemeral

Whatever the future of this site will be this year, I've already determined that it will not follow the 2016 presidential election campaigns.  I've done enough of that.  So there will be no 2016 label to join the previous ones.

On the other hand, I still read the news headlines at least and I'm not cancelling my email notice of Andy Borowitz satirical commentary, and he's already come up with two wonderful posts: First Smart Move of 2015--Jeb Bush Resigns as George W. Bush’s Brother, and today's:Poll: Most Americans Now Consider Romney a Stalker.

Really, isn't this all you need to know?  A laugh, being a brief outburst, seems the proper response to insights about the ephemeral.