photo from the good folks at pixabay
As our civilization slowly falls apart over the coming decades, there are some technologies I will miss a lot more than others. Some of these are obvious — it’s now hard to imagine living without the Internet, running water, electric power, some life-saving drugs, and some almost indispensable appliances (fridge, laundry etc). With few possible exceptions, we’re going to have to learn to live without them all, since global economic collapse, the commensurate end of abundant, cheap, low-tech energy, and the massive migration that climate change will require, will utterly undermine the infrastructure, logistics and processes needed to keep these wonderful conveniences of modern life in production and in useful condition.
So I’ve started noticing and being grateful for these technologies, since I suspect future generations will see them slowly start to become unreliable or scarce, and, a few generations from now, our descendants will be mostly unaware they ever existed.
Here’s my top 10 technologies I’ll miss when they’re gone, beyond the obvious ones cited above. Thanks to their inventors and developers (almost always collective efforts, “building on the shoulders of giants”) for making my life easier, more joyful, and more comfortable. In no particular order:
- The LED. A little technology that allows light in places that could never before afford it, reduces energy use by 85%, is more durable than what it replaces, and will soon power, and make lighter, all the monitors we use for so many purposes.
- The digital camera and optical lenses. I am old enough to remember the mess and hassle of darkrooms, black and white photos, troublesome film, costly film development, and massive, clunky cameras. I appreciate how lenses can let us see what we could otherwise not: clear sight thanks to ever-more-sophisticated eyeglasses, and the marvels seen through incredibly inexpensive microscopes, binoculars and telescopes, and captured through zoom lenses.
- Cotton and polyester fabrics. They provide astonishing warmth very inexpensively (robes and sleeping bags), versatile, care-free, no-iron clothing and other goods for every occasion, and are the “stuff” that most inexpensive soft toys are made from.
- Wi-fi. Although still plagued by opportunistic lawsuits, this global protocol enables unprecedented collaboration, productivity virtually anywhere, and free telephony. What more could you ask for?
- Detergents. Although they are not harmless, detergents are a simple invention that are less environmentally toxic than most cleaning chemicals, and the most effective cleaning ingredients ever invented.
- Modern headset/earbud tech. Remember the tinny sound of transistor radios? The relatively simple but infinitely subtle technology of getting realistic sound to your ear is remarkable.
- Books. Ancient tech, and an enormous consumer of finite resources, but still the most indispensable tool for learning. And then gift them to others!
- Portable electric appliances. For tiny apartment kitchens (counter-top stoves, toaster ovens, kettles, coffee-makers, blenders, and yes, even microwave ovens), for emergency first aid (heating pads etc), and for unmatched pleasure (vibes etc) it’s hard to imagine how we ever did without these labour-saving devices.
- Blogs. Maybe they’re socially obsolete, but having my own site with my own stuff organized as I like it and accessible forever has changed my life: Allowed me to think out loud and evolve my worldview, found me love, jobs, and my publisher, developed my writing skills, and serves as my auxiliary memory.
- My treadmill desk. An extravagance, perhaps, but it’s the only exercise device I’ve ever kept using. I can do almost anything while exercising (so the tedium vanishes). To a substantial degree I owe my health to it. (Oops just thought of a #11:)
- Flash memory. Up to a TB of durable storage for practically nothing. And no dependence on “the cloud”.
I’m sure I could think of others. But it’s more fun to think of the 10 worst technologies that I certainly won’t miss when they’re gone. Again in no particular order:
- The cellphone. Dumbest invention ever. Incredibly expensive, tiny useless keyboard, tiny awkward annoying screen, outrageous monthly fees even without “roaming” charges, unreliable signals, rapid obsolescence, poor construction. Everything it does is done better by other, less expensive devices.
- Bluetooth. Wi-fi but with a hopelessly limited range. Ridiculously unreliable. Devices that use it are generally shoddy. This century’s version of the walkie-talkie.
- Private automobiles. Imagine the world we might be living in if this absurdly expensive invention had never come to pass, along with all the oil and land it has consumed, and all the pollution and time waste it has produced.
- Mass media: TV, radio, newspapers — all the media that purport to inform and entertain but instead pander, propagandize and distract. What a monstrous waste of time, energy and human endeavour.
- Money, and the banking industry: A grossly-overpaid, usurious industry that produces nothing of any value whatsoever, and through encouraging indebtedness creates massive misery, stress, dislocation and dysfunction. [Long rant omitted here]
- QWERTY: And typing keyboards in general. Why is progress towards voice (and handwriting) recognition so slow that we still have to rely on this absurd 19th century invention for manual typewriters?
- “Social” media: By which I mean media that pander to people and activities that are absolutely free of any original content. The cost of this utter waste of time, and the servers and machines and technologies and airtime needed to sustain it, and the psychological damage it causes, are incalculable. For what? So that people can tell others, who mostly don’t give a damn, what they like and don’t like, and what they’ve read that is probably incorrect, misunderstood, deliberately misleading and/or unactionable?
- The mattress: Must be the consumer item with the most unjustified high markup (up to 900%) and the least real innovation of anything on the market. Air beds, water beds, memory foam — we spend a third of our lives on these things and this is the best they can do?
- Heating systems: In affluent nations we’re living in bigger houses yet in smaller families than ever before. Most of the heat in our homes (and I presume, the “coolth” of air conditioners as well) is lost, wasted. Technology exists to essentially eliminate the need for heat or cooling, and to provide what is needed economically and sustainably, but almost no homes use it because it costs more up front. Insane.
- “Widescreen”: As absurd as the 20th century’s “quadraphonic stereo”, this takes a bad idea (presenting all online media on a screen with landscape rather than the portrait orientation that we’ve used, sensibly, for books and other information media since they were invented), and makes it even worse. I give it ten years.
I’m sure I could add many technologies to this list too (eg email and “intellectual capital” might be contenders), but my purpose isn’t to rant or to get people charged up, it’s to reflect on my gratefulness for good technologies, and to remind myself not to waste time, money and energy on the bad ones.
Hope this has been fun for you to read, and inspires you to be grateful for some of the wonderful technologies that make our lives better, and to the brilliant minds that made them possible. We’ll miss them when they’re gone.