Does all this new and exciting technology make us "better off?" Or are we headed toward greater complexity, increased frustration, and a human burden that will grow in proportion to the gadgets and programs that surround us? We certainly can be better off with information technology. But not the way we are headed.
Michael Dertouzos, The Unfinished Revolution: Human-Centered Computers and What They Can Do for Us
Vignette #1: Youire driving down the road, minding your own business. Youire in the slow lane. As you approach an exit ramp, you notice another car in the fast lane, the fourth lane over. Suddenly, the fast-lane car zips across three lanes to exit the highway, passing right in front of you.
Vignette #2: This time, you are in the fast lane. The speed limit is 65 miles per hour. Youire driving a little above the limit, cruising along at 70. Suddenly, you hit your brakes, screeching down to a 55-miles-per-hour snailis pace. The reason? Thereis a slow poke in the fast lane, right ahead of you, driving as if saying, "I pay taxes, and, by God, Iim going to drive as fast (or as slow) as I want." You move right, pass him, move back left and continue on.
These two scenarios occur on a regular basis, itis safe to say. But, add in one more piece of information to the two scenes above: As the first nuisance driver passed you to exit, and as the second nuisance driver held up fast-lane traffic, each of them was talking on a cell phone.
If you are the type of person who is often irritated by these two types of drivers, then you are probably irritated further when you find that their inconsiderate driving is related to cell-phone usage
By now, you are probably wondering what this has to do with Microsoft, as the headline indicates. Iim glad you asked.
You are probably aware of Microsoftis latest software initiative called "Hailstorm," the most recent ploy to put flesh to its 1990s mantra "Windows everywhere." But Hailstorm goes beyond Windows, though. The Cliff Notes version of the Hailstorm plan is this: By leveraging several Microsoft technologies, the company dreams a world in which all of your personal information (credit card numbers, e-mail, computer passwords, financial info) is stored on Microsoft servers. The promise of Hailstorm is that you would be able to access that server information from any computing device from anywhere in world, be it a desktop computer at home, a handheld Personal Digital Assistant, a desktop computer at school or the office, a kiosk in a shopping mall, or a laptop in the airport.
In light of the above, I tremble at the thought that this list of Hailstorm-enabled devices will include your cell phone. As you drive a car. In front of me.
We are already well on our way to becoming a nation of self-centered technology fiends. How many times have you been in a movie theatre, and you find yourself standing next to some kids carrying on meaningless conversation on their cell phones (you know theyire meaningless because you can hear every monosyllable of their conversation). This situation plays itself out in malls, grocery stores, libraries, restaurants and schools.
Itis not hard to extrapolate a Hailstormed world in which those same kids -- and many adults -- will have graduated from the incessant beeping, chirping and singing of cell phones and pagers to equally ubiquitous Microsoft devices in which we will now have to suffer their Web surfing, e-mailing, AOL Instant Messenging, and eBay bidding. This doesnit bode well for those of us who are more considerate of those around us (I donit take my cell phone to movie theatres and restaurants, unlike the woman in the Chinese-food restaurant yesterday -- and she wasnit talking about anything, either).
And this wonit make the daily commute any more pleasant, either. Imagine you are sitting in morning rush-hour traffic, on say, the I-494 "Bloomington strip" -- notorious for being arguably the slowest traffic jam in Minneapolis. As traffic finally begins to accelerate to a blazingly fast 15 miles per hour, you are scared out of your wits when this car pulls in front of you. Gripping the steering wheel in white-knuckled panic, you notice that the person who just recklessly passed you is punching furiously on some handheld device, probably playing the stock market instead of their stick-shift. You laugh as you picture them cursing their Microsoft device because they canit turn off "auto complete."
At the same time, you remember reading an article about some countries where it is legal to own and use devices that basically blasts a targeted cell-phone user with a disruptive stream of static, shutting off their phone call. As you think of such a device, you smile to yourself, your mind drifting to orchestrated acts of vile road rage.
You recall stories about people who get so mad at idiot drivers that they lose themselves to anger and physically assault the party. You admit that such senseless violence is unacceptable, regardless of the level justification in said anger. You donit condone such actions, but you do understand the reasoning behind it.
Then, you stir from your reverie, because, as you pull out your cell-phone/Internet appliance, you remember that sweater that you wanted to buy on eBay.
Thanks for the (future) memories, Microsoft, and for all that you (will) have wrought.