Make the future simple, or the machines will have to take over
Modern life is a complicated business. There’s a lot of stuff to think about. And remember. Like passwords. Or which exit to use at Bank station. Or the names of your friends’ children. The names of your own children.
A few weeks ago, I borrowed a Range Rover Velar for the weekend. It’s an absolutely fabulous car. Big, powerful, surprisingly grippy and very pretty from most angles (side on particularly). But in the cockpit, it is awash with fancy touchscreens, all of them peppered with a bewildering array of buttons that do anything from deactivating infuriating beeps to massaging your bottom. It’s all immensely clever – and far cleverer than me. (Or should that be ‘than I am’?)
Undoubtedly, tech can make us more efficient and give us life-improving things we never knew we needed. But it can also make us stupid, lazy and feckless. I’d never be the one howling for a prelapsarian age when fire, a dry cave and the love of a hairless woman were the best a man could ever hope for. But I don’t remember the moment when we asked for things to get so complicated we couldn’t be bothered to work out how they work.
It’s not just in cars and tech. The other day I went to a restaurant that proudly offers more than 500 wines on its wine list. FIVE HUNDRED. How boring does your date have to be before you’re prepared to sift through that many wines before dinner? Good luck getting to desert without dialling in an excuse about leaving the gas on.
And then there was the DIY store sold the other day for a pound I went into during a recent staycation. I wanted to buy some slug pellets to combat the uglies eating my White Florist Calla Lily (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write) and found myself faced with a slew of varieties, all promising something pretty similar but in an array of colours, sizes and prices.
Too much choice is nothing new, so much so that in dining, to return to the example, we’re now very au fait with restaurants offering menus pared down to the bare minimum. Lack of choice is one of the reasons I love going to Franco Manca. But tech hasn’t got it yet. You can cite no-button smartphones, but let’s not be deceived – there are zillions of touchscreen buttons hidden inside.
I’d urge cat and tech companies to consider that for everyday folk who as teenagers had more interest in the opposite sex than in coding, the best technology is also the simplest technology. Technology that eases our path into tomorrow, rather than tech that dizzies us into madness. Because at that point, for their own sanity, the machines will have to take over.
Driven to distraction
And on that note. While at the helm of said Range Rover, I got done for speeding, the first time I’ve been trapped at the wheel of a car since 2003. I can’t be sure, but I’d be prepared to bet that at the time of said offence I was trying to work out which button to tap to change the radio station or how to get the air conditioning working. Which made me wonder how inconsistent it is that we’re not allowed to use mobile phones at the wheel, items with which we are deeply familiar, and yet it’s absolutely fine to get lost in a car’s befuddling infotainment system while driving down a country lane. ‘What was that bump?’ ‘I think you just hit a farmer, dear – but thank goodness we don’t have to listen to that Hartley-Brewer woman any more.’ Banning phones at the wheel is a smart thing to do. It’s time we considered making in-car systems much less distracting, too.
Honour among peeves
Was it just me, or was there less wailing and gnashing of teeth as the Queen dished out her annual birthday gift to the nation yesterday? I can understand challenging some of the choices or the inconsistencies (why are Nick Clegg, Simon Hughes and Ed Davey all knights of the realm, when David Cameron isn’t?), but never have any truck with those who sneer at the principle of the honours system. Perhaps as a pre-Brexit nation we’re now more inclined to celebrate what we’re good at, and to acknowledge that honouring those who make the most significant contributions to our society creates a platform for universal aspiration. Goodness knows there are few other areas of public life where we find it at the moment.