It certainly should not come as a shock that our lives these days are inextricably tied to and dependent upon technological innovation, because they have been for quite some time. However, the speed at which this dependency is taking root is alarming to some, especially those in a certain age bracket, and then there is the “stuff” that is just plain bizarre, although even that word seems quaint given the weird shit that appears to be in development these days. For example, the device pictured above to the far right. No, it is not a high-tech dental device to cure overbite problems, but hey, good guess!
A quick perusal of some of the futuristic (?) “gadgets” on display at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (as featured in this month’s L.A. Magazine) is certainly a good start. How about “color wheels” from BMW for “drivers who want their ride to match their mood,” dubbed “I Vision Dee” designed to “maximize what Bimmer dubs your – and no I am not making this up – ‘Digital Emotional Experience.’ As the blurb says: “With a flick of a switch, you can change your car’s color to any combination of 32 hues, from an austere aubergine to Russian-oligarch red.” Wait, what? I was thinking more along the lines of say yellow, for when you’re really pissed off, or brown for when you don’t give a shit. How about green for envy when you pull up beside a Ferrari? Let’s face it, the possibilities are as endless as they are vacuous!
What about the “ASKA 5” a personal four-seater plane “with a flight range of 250 miles and a cruising speed of 70 mph?” As the copy states: “For the price of a suburban house, you too can fly home like George J” (a reference, of course, to The Jetsons). My only question here is are we talking about a house in Wichita, KS (median price $194 K), or Los Angeles, CA (median price $920 K)? I mean, if it’s Wichita, I’m in.
Neither of these your style? Not to worry. There is something for everyone. How about the Glüxkind Ella, which is being hailed as the Tesla of baby carriages – a self-driving stroller for parental units who want to propel their offspring on a hands-free, tech-forward cruise around the block?” Awesome! What could possibly go wrong with that?
Before I go from the sublime to the ridiculous (that would be the far right picture), let’s take a quick look at our relationship to technology. One of the, for lack of a better term, founding tenants of technological advancement was to make our lives “easier.” And you’re not alone if you think that it’s really just the opposite that is true. What if you were to take a long hard look at all the technology you use on a fairly regular basis and make a two-column list of all the tech that you feel you couldn’t do without on one side, and all the tech that you feel is an indulgence and that you could easily (well, maybe not that easy at first) eliminate from your lives on the other side? What would that list look like? How about computer/phone/tablet games? Is the daily newspaper crossword, sudoku, jumble, not enough stimulation for a day? What about virtual reality games? How about that PlayStation, X-Box, or Nintendo Switch? I can almost see you twitching spasmodically! I fully realize that these last technologies are, in some way, “generational,” because personal experience has taught me that.
About 16 years ago, my then 14-year-old stepson called to me as I made my way past his room.
“Hey North, do you want to play a game of $%&$#@*^?”
“You know I suck at those games!”
“Nah, come on, it’ll be fun!”
Now, being the fairly new kid on the block, I decided to take one for the team (did I just use two clichés in a row? Oops, my bad)! So, in I went, and he hands me a “console which, if you just pop a “u” in there, you will have what I needed – counsel, or counselling; yeah, I know you have to swap the “o” for an “e” as well, but if you’re going to be that picky, just stick with console and then make it consoling, which I was sure to need after being humiliated by a 14-year-old! So, I grabbed the console and said:
“Hey, what are all these buttons and knobs for?”
“Oh, don’t worry about the ones on the right. You don’t need those.”
“Right…, I mean okay, but what about the ones on the left?”
“Oh yeah, forgot, you don’t need those either!”
“Good to know,” I said, not too convincingly, knowing full-well what was about to happen.
The game began, and before I even finished typing these words, it was over. The score was something like two billion to two, and I am almost certain that I got both my points by pure luck! And, of course, he racked up those two billion points in less than two minutes while ALL his fingers were using ALL of the levers, buttons, knobs, switches, toggles, there for the using, especially if you knew what the heck (J) they were for! Even if I “knew” what they all did, there is no way I would have been able to use them to get more than two points…okay, maybe four!
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this “rant” about technology from an old codger whose idea of “technology” is anything with a switch adorable? Fair enough, but I did type this on my iPad using only one finger, while listening to electronic music using iTunes on the very same iPad connected by Bluetooth to my earbud headphones! I just thought I should let you know before you hurt yourself laughing so hard.
All of which brings me to the final “goody” from the Consumer Electronic Show, which is front and center in that picture to the far right, the one right beside the picture of Anthony Hopkins in the movie The Silence of The Lambs. If you’re thinking that they look eerily similar, you are not alone. This “device” is the latest from “Skyted,” a Toulouse, France company, supported no less by “esa,” the European Space Agency, Airbus,” and “Overa,” the French Aerospace Lab. What it is exactly is a “disruptive sound absorbing open air mask.” As the promotional material goes on to state: “We are backed by AIRBUS and the European Space Agency to achieve our vision of silent inflight calls.” Perhaps an easier way to get your head around this is to think of it as your dog’s payback for the muzzle you made Fido wear to get her/him to stop barking or biting your neighbor’s hand! Because that is exactly what this is, a muzzle so you can talk to someone on your phone or computer while on a plane and not bother the person beside you.
I checked out the company’s website because I clearly have nothing better to do with my life and learned that they are running a Kickstarter campaign for this product, which is a bit ironic when you think about what a “kick starter” refers to: A very outdated way to get your motorcycle going! Then they provide some statistics to further their cause. “In the US 92 million people are working remotely, meaning virtual meetings in airport lounges, shared workspaces, at home etc.” Now, please correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t working “remotely” mean not being in airport lounges or shared workspaces? And “1 Billion daily participants on video conferencing solutions (Zoom, Google, Microsoft, etc.). Personally, I like the spin L.A. Magazine put on it: “Taking an important call that you don’t want others to hear? Playing Call of Duty in your cubicle? Skyted is running a Kickstarter campaign for an electronic muzzle that will let you exult in a high score or shovel the shadenfreude about deplorables within earshot without anyone being the wiser.”
Which is exactly why I thought of the first image above taken from that wonderful 60s show Get Smart and one of its cleverer joke devices, “the cone of silence.” It is, in a sense, a tip of the hat to the cone of silence aircraft navigation systems used in the 1930s and 40s, as well as cone of silence radar where planes were unable to be seen by radar antennas. You might also know the term from the 1965 novel Dune or earlier in Arthur C. Clarke’s 1956 The City and the Stars.
But why stop at these uses? Just think of the possibilities. For instance, you got a kid that swears too much, strap one of these puppies on and you will never hear another bad word. Better yet, want to get your kid to stop swearing? My “modest proposal” is that I am sure it would be relatively easy to rig one of these muzzles to give out a little shock every time your precious progeny utters a swear word – just think of it as a kind of a shock collar for your pet, er, kid. Now you can sit back and relax, as your dog is “shocked” into obedient behavior, and your precious Johnny is “shocked,” ever so slightly, out of using curse words. Ah, technology, ya gotta love it!
Los Angeles 2023