When Tech Goes Backwards

iPhones for music, screens for A/V, and iPads for writing.

October 6, 2014

Can you think of examples where technology has gone backwards?

Where a tech thing is worse today than in the past?  Anything in edtech?

I was thinking about this today while listening to music on iPhone during a run.  What a nightmare. Skipping songs means having to look at the screen.  The iPhone is really too big to put in my pocket, so if I forget the arm band I end up carrying the thing in my hand.   The big reason that I’m really torn about going to an iPhone 6+ is my fear about how I’m going to run with the thing.

Since about 2001 I’ve been running with an iPod.  I’m not actually certain that my body could run without music.  For most of that time the iPod has been pretty great to run with.  I remember some early freezing problems with my 1st or 2nd generation hard drive iPods, but by the 3rd generation (2003) the iPod was close to perfect.  The best thing about the iPod was the physical click wheel.  It was easy to advance past a song without looking at the iPod.  The tactile feel and feedback of the buttons made controlling playback and volume easy and intuitive while running.

Running with an iPod only got better with the iPod Mini (2004 to 2005), and the iPod Nano (2005 on).  I should say that running with the iPod Nano was great until 2009, the last year that the Nano (5th generation) had click wheel.  After 2010 the Nano went all touch screen. Maybe I should get an iPod Shuffle?  It seems like it has not been updated since 2010 (is that right?), but it still has a click wheel.  The problem is that I also use my iPhone as my FitBit (having lost the watch thing), as the counting of steps is a great motivator to run.  I’ve painted myself into a tech corner.

What other technologies have gone backwards?  

How about classroom A/V controls?  I find screens, menus, and sub-menus endlessly confusing as classroom A/V controls.  Whenever I go and speak somewhere I’m never really totally confident that I’ll get my MacBook Air to plug in to the projector.  Forget making sure the audio works to show a video.  I fantasize about big clunky knobs and dials.  One knob to control audio.  A rocker switch to control the source of video.  A big physical slider to lower a screen, and another one to control the lights.  A big button that says “record now” and another big button that says “pause’ to control classroom video capture, with a big red light that turns on when we are recording.   Classroom A/V run by screens may be infinitely configurable and flexible, but what have we lost in terms of reliability, independence, and usability?

Another edtech area where I’d argue that we are going backwards is the iPad and the Surface.  Serious academic work requires a keyboard.  The keyboards for iPads and Surfaces are inferior to laptop keyboards.  Typing on your lap with an add-on iPad / Surface keyboard is near impossible.  Everyone likes the battery life, size, and flexibility of tablets.  Bringing an iPad to a meeting is more socially acceptable for some reason than bringing a laptop.  But the loss of a high quality keyboard and the ability to sit down anywhere and type means that we write and revise less.  If you think that writing is integral to learning then the iPad fad is a bad development.

What are your worse than yesterday tech and edtech nominations?


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