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5 Stalled Technologies
June 27, 2013 - 9:00pm

Last night I downloaded the Kindle version of Bad Monkey, Carl Hiaasen's latest book. 

This was the process:  I read a review, went to Amazon, purchased the book, and a few seconds later was reading on my Kindle Paperwhite.  

I had a few minutes today while waiting for a meeting, spare moments that I was able to utilize to keep reading Bad Monkey on the Kindle app on my iPhone.  

If had wanted to spend some extra money I could have purchased the audio version, and switched seamlessly back and forth between my eyes and my ears.

The book is a technology that has advanced.

Today, I read more books and better books than in past.

I also spend much more money on books. 

Sadly, I am also much less likely to borrow a book from the library, as I want the book in digital format (e-book or audio or both), and the digital borrowing selection (at both my academic and town library) is minuscule compared to what Jeff Bezos has on offer.

Unlike the book, some other technologies seem to stubbornly resist advancement.  (And I am looking forward to you calling bullshit on my book advancing technology argument!).

5 Stalled Technologies:

E-Mail:

How many e-mails did you receive yesterday?  How many e-mails are in your inbox?   How much time do you spend each day on e-mail?  To what degree is e-mail distracting you from concentrated work?  How many of your projects do you manage through e-mail?  To what extent do you use e-mail as your document exchange and repository?  Is e-mail your group collaboration tool?   Have you moved from checking e-mail on your computer to constantly checking e-mail on your phone?

Despite platforms like DropBox and Google Drive and Basecamp and Asana and Salesforce and you name it - our e-mail time sink keeps getting deeper and deeper.  We layer on top of e-mail. We add new applications and platforms around e-mail.   But the number of e-mails keeps growing, the time spent on e-mail keeps increasing, and the number of screens that we read e-mail keeps multiplying.

Technology solutions to the tyranny of e-mail have utterly failed to emancipate ourselves from this insidious tool.   The only answers to the failure of e-mail as a technology have been behavioral.  Go to inbox zero. Turn off your damn phone.   

Laptop Batteries:

The biggest news to come out of the last Apple keynote wasn't some new software or radically re-imagined piece of hardware goodness.  It was the fact that the 13-inch MacBook Air now gets up to 12 hours of battery life.

Improved battery life is really the only reason anymore to buy a new laptop.   Do we really need sharper screens, faster processors, more memory? Probably not.  

Laptop battery improvements have been, sadly, at the margins.   In my lifetime of laptop ownership the battery has remained a constant irritant, while everything else on the laptop has improved. Today's laptops are cheaper, lighter, brighter, and faster than anything we dared imagined a decade ago - they just don't keep running when not plugged in all that much longer.

This is of course a larger story about batteries, and their utter failure to conform to the laws laid down by the prophet Gordon E. Moore.  The glacial pace of battery improvement is holding everything back, from the move off the internal combustion engine to a viable solution to storing energy made from renewable sources.  

Slow improvements in our ability to work on our laptops while unplugged are probably the least of the costs imposed on society by the lack of progress in battery technology.  Still, why can't we figure our wireless power and move on with our lives?

Window Air Conditioners:

Last weekend we installed 3 window air conditioning units.   We purchased these units from Amazon.   My hope for some window air conditioning technology breakthrough turned out to be misplaced (the last time I purchased one of these things was in 1989).   For the life of me I can not tell the difference between window air conditioner circa George H. W. Bush and today's Barack Obama term 2 window unit.

These things are heavy.  They are loud.  They don't fit in the window very well.   They are expensive to run, and a pain to install.    

Where is the flat screen window air conditioner?  Where is the lightweight, quiet, and energy sipping window air conditioner?  When is Nest going to move from thermostats to air conditioners?  

Paper:

How many pieces of paper do you have on you desk?  Are you still handed stacks of paper at the start of meetings? Are you still photocopying, printing, carrying, and handing out paper?

I'm as guilty as anyone.  I print because I want to write on the words, tables, and graphs.  I print because I don't really like looking at a backlit screen.  I print and I print and I print.

What we need is an all purpose piece of digital paper.  Something that we can write on over and over and over again....but that will quickly revert to whatever document we are looking for.  Digital paper that is bendable and lightweight, bright and rugged.  Color as well as black and white.

Every year we are tantalized with some YouTube video about some digital paper technology that some company is almost about to launch.  Every year nothing much comes out of it.  If our greatest minds can put cheese inside a pizza crust why can't we come up with a true digital replacement for paper?

Computer Projector Connectors:

How many conferences have you been to where the presenter can't get his laptop to display on the screen?  How many meetings have you attended where the first 10 minutes is taken up trying to get the projector and the laptop to speak nicely to each other?   How many classes have you taught where your PowerPoint refuses to work?  Or where you forgot to bring the correct dongle, and you are stuck frantically trying to track down someone with the right connectors?

Mark my words, the problem of the project connector will only get worse in the mobile computing age.   Tablets and phones will be the next presentation tool, and not all of these devices will communicate well with our projectors.

This is a solvable problem.  Some vendor somewhere has an elegant and universal wireless solution to room display.   Some standards body is working to get everyone's technology on the same page.   

The question is will any of us live to see the day when the start of presentation is no longer a moment of high drama and all too frequent tragedy?

What are your nominations for a stalled technology?

 

 

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