Novelty’s Limitations: A Eulogy For Older Technologies

Published: September 23, 2014

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” —George Santayana.

“Those who reject the achievement of past innovations are due a smack.” —George Tucker.

Ours is an industry driven by change. Margins and growth are, more often than not, based on a premise of installing what’s new in place of the old.

We post with the glee of an Aztec priest holding the still beating heart of the sacrificed, photos of the now disgorged gear — its entrail like cables gripped firmly in hand, the enclosure slumped and askew. “Look at this old dog,” the status update reads, with nary a thought of the engineering breakthroughs and months of work the product required to make it.

The Logan’s Run Syndrome

How we treat older technologies can be summed up by the plot of the movie Logan’s Run. The film describes a post apocalyptic dystopian society, where to maintain resources in the hermetically sealed environment, life is ended at 30. 

When does ‘old’ start? While we rush headlong into the slick, the glossy, the virgin snow, in the adrenaline haze of mass disposal in the name of disruption — we are losing lessons of the past. Despite our tendency to see familiarity in contempt, there are talismans to the those seeking the next paradigm shift.

Flirtatious Confections

The ultra modern interfaces beckon us with their sexy, slinky presentations and the flirty feedback of virtual buttons. The response to touch are multi-layered and subtlety sublime. Like the ornate and delicate confections of boutique bakeries the allure stirs deep unconscious emotions. Is it really what is wanted or, more importantly, needed? Does it work?

Consider the simplest of our modern interfaces, the switch, and more specifically the light switch. It has a very specific job to do, turn on or off the lights. The action requires very little thought to complete, a quick flick of the wrist and it’s done! They have limitations, of course — they can only perform one function and when multiple zones are to be controlled, they take up massive real estate on the wall.

Other Side of the Coin: Why this Industry is So Resistant to Change

Touch panels do have the ability to provide a universe of zones on a single screen but end users grow weary of the five step finger dance to dim a light. Like the salacious sweets, we learn that the new and exotic may not always be what is needed — even if desired. Manufacturers answered with screens that harken back to the switch by including tactile buttons on the side for single tasks.

It is worth noting that among the main industry manufacturers, simple two and four button keypads are on the short list of top sellers.

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