A surprising amount of modern technology is almost totally useless

As I sit here, drinking my coffee (with a shot of Kahlua in it, no less), typing away on the SDMB, I find my gaze wandering to my cellphone, the wonder of modern technology that it is.

It’s a Motorola V1050 3G Videophone, with a memory card and colour screen and the ability to play MP3s. Yet I’ve never used it for anything besides text messages and ringing people, largely because- and here’s the thing- I don’t know anyone else with a videophone, and even if I did, I know what they look like and don’t need to see them when they’re talking to me on the phone (especially if they’ve only just got out of the shower, or they’re on the toilet, or something).

Sure, the technology has it’s uses, but like so much else in the modern world, I suspect that a lot of technology is simply wasted on most of us.

Take a Microwave Oven- most people I know (including myself) simply put whatever we’re cooking in on “High” for a couple of minutes, and then it’s food time! Very rarely, I might manually defrost something- but our Microwave (which is at least 7 or 8 years old) has a dazzling array of functions that will never, ever get used.

The TV is the same- timers, auto-adjustment functions, teletext, multi-lingual displays, Automatic Fine Tuning… None of which I use.

VCRs used to be (and still are) the same- a bazillion functions almost no-one uses, and the same is starting to be said of DVD players- more and more functions that really aren’t strictly necessary, or even useful, IMO.

Of course, many dismiss my ramblings as being anti-tech, which is quite the opposite of what I’m getting at. Technology is great, but surely some of the effort and resources required to make a DVD player than can let me watch Raiders Of The Lost Ark with Swedish dubbing and Hungarian subtitles could be used for something more useful- like designing a Time Machine, or a Holodeck. :smiley:

Anyway, I’d argue that the majority of modern technology is wasted on your average person, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

Can’t very easily argue with you. We’re at a point where the features now available via technology vastly exceed the average’s users desire for the product. But that’s, I think, a natural part of the consumer culture.

Imagine, for example, a world in which all phones just connected to others so you could call them and communicate via voice. Where would a cell phone company go to carve out larger market share? The technology is fairly mature. There won’t be huge gains in reliability or service, God knows. So they need to compete on features to gain new customers. And thus we have video phones and camera phones and text messaging and other craziness that most won’t use but will have.


I agree with you to a certain extent. I got a new cell phone about 18 months ago, after I dropped mine and it broke.
I just wanted a phone, you know - something to call people with? The rep at the Verizon store thought I was nuts. No, I didn’t want a camera or texting or internet capabilities or an mp3 player - none of that extra crap. Just a phone. In basic black, preferably. I didn’t want colored sleeves to slip on to match my outfit, I didn’t want a cutsey case to carry it in, I didn’t want a RoboCop earpiece. Just a freaking phone! The sales rep was amazed that I didn’t want to take advantage of all the available technology.

I do use the microwave for more than heating stuff up. I defrost in it, and actually cook in it.

We just bought a new DVD player for the bedroom (at Christmas), and it can record, but we have yet to figure it out. To be fair, it’s not like we’ve tried and failed, we just haven’t been bothered with it. We’ve just used it to watch DVDs. I think only the ‘play’ and ‘power’ buttons have been used. The remote looks like something you could launch nuclear missles with.

Add my voice to the chorus. We looked at mini-vans back in the day. We chose NOT to get the one with the automatic sliding doors (with remote control!), because as I said to my husband, “one more thing to break.”

I would love some simple streaminglining with some products–who uses al 17 settings on their blender, for example? IMO, puree is not really different from “blend”.

As for cell phones–they are too small. I can’t hold it comfortably (I have a shell or oyster or whatever their called phone). The camera is a nice gimmick–can’t say I use it. I do text people a bit, though. I have never connected to the internet with my phone and have no plans to start etc.
Give me quality, rather than bells and whistles.

It’s purely marketing. People want features. One of the reasons why Microsoft Office is so popular is that Bill Gates understands this.

[Luddite mode]

The cell phone (and the telephone in general) is the greatest money-making scam in the history of mankind. Not only do the phone companies get to charge people simply for talking to each other at a distance, they’ve managed to successfully convince us that we need to have this ability available every waking moment of our lives. Absolutely brilliant.

[/Luddite mode]

The main reason, of course, for all those bell and whistles on cell phones is that the providers can charge separate fees for each of those features you use. I mean, they gotta pay for all those expensive television commercials somehow, right?

I was at an air show a couple of weeks ago and noticed a fair number of people attempting to take photos of fast jets in flight with their cell-phone cameras. Right, folks, I’m sure that grainy 1.3 MP (or less) image, with no ability to ajust shutter speed or lens focal length, came out real nice.

As for texting, I hate it but one very good friend of mine insists on staying in touch by text and I like talking to her, so guess I’ll have to put up with it for now.

Yeah. I’ve observed this with my mom. She’s a total technofoob, so I tried to talk her into buying a simple phone. Call and be called. But no, she wanted the deluxe model with a hundred functions, of which the inbuilt fax-machine was the simplest. We almost fought in the store; it was embarassing.
Stronwilled as she is, she took home the de-luxe phone. And she didn’t even get it started. The next day, she returned to the store and bougth a simpler phone. But she only admitted defeat in this case because she uses the phone several times a day, and can’t live without it, so her need outweighed her pride.

Her pride has made her buy a PC with all the trimmings, as well. She didn’t really use the PC though, so she didn’t resort to a simpler model. She just bought a PC, used it maybe once or twice under guidance, and then let it sit on her desk to gather dust. :rolleyes:

What the elderly want in a cell-phone…

My mobile is relatively new (about 8 months or so.) It can ring people, text message and has about 4 basic games. It cost me around $60 USD. I have never found myself wishing it could do something extra.

In general though, I think a lot of people, me included, are guilty of making buying decisions based on features that will never be used.

Maastricht --I’m a bit young to be elderly, but count me in. I have just figured out how to speed dial my cell phone. I could not get it to make calls in Europe (despite changing my settings), although I could receive them(?) etc.
It’s aggravating as all get out. I want bigger key pads, and not such a slim line.

I have become my mother.


I have the newest cell phone, and I not only check my e-mail on it, but take and send pictures with it.

My home theater has a complicated reciever with tons of audio options and I love playing with them. Same with the TV.

My WORK cell (yes I carry two) is a GPS enabled nextel that I loaded the Maqpquest software on, so I can pinpoint where I am, or where other people in the district are via their Nextel.

Toys! I need more toys!!!

Haven’t had a cell phone for several years and when I did it was the simplest pre-paid I could lay hands on. Gave it up when I realized I wasn’t using it anywhere near enough to justify even the minimal expense of keeping it operational on a monthly basis. Now where I’m getting feature overload, or attempted feature overload, is on my landline. My phone company doesn’t just sell basic line access; they sell packages of features, local calls and long distance minutes. I have the oldest and cheapest package available and it still has more stuff on it than I need or use. Call waiting? Used once in over six years. Call forwarding? Never use it. Three-way calling? Never use it. *69? Never used to use it, now have used it maybe three times (in over six years) when I’ve had voice mail messages and didn’t feel like dialing up the VM. VM which I’ve now discontinued because I found my old answering machine that works just fine so no need to spend the extra money on it. I never use my basic allotment of local calls and rarely if ever go over my monthly allotment of LD minutes. And my phone company desperately wants me to switch to a new, even more feature-larded package, which would be a total waste of money for me. If my DSL weren’t through the same phone company and if I weren’t under contract with them for a few more months I’d give serious thought to dumping the company, but that would put me back in the position of picking out either another land line or another feature-overloaded cell phone.

I used to work for my phone company, doing collections, and I’d get people every day calling in because they couldn’t pay their bills. I’d look at the bills and they’d be encrusted with every useless feature we offered. Everything mentioned above and several more on top, all costing $3-$5 per month. I’d suggest that they could reduce their monthly bills by getting rid of some of the features and you’d think I’d suggested amputating a limb.

You say you don’t need most of the new features, but isn’t there one or two features that you originally thought you might like? If so, their tactic of cramming every conceivable feature worked.

I wish more consumers made purchasing decisions based on reviews, independent test results and actual owners’ recommendations instead of advertising. Otherwise what incentive does the manufacturer have for improving quality? Their time is better spent on making products that look good on the ad.

I’m always somewhat bemused whenever we get a new computer-controlled piece of equipment in the lab. It always comes with a full-featured desktop computer. I mean, think about it - here’s a machine that has more computing power than anyone dreamed of a few decades ago. It can do a huge number of tasks - movies, music, office work, internet, email, etc, etc. It usually comes with a DVD drive and CD burner, a huge hard drive, and lots of other bells and whistles. And it ends up just sitting on the bench for a few years, running one simple little program to tell a robot how to extract our DNA for us. But, of course, we can’t get a simpler, cheaper computer because no one sells anything but top of the line. It’s really a little insane.

This reminds me of a quote I read years ago by… someone - I can’t remember who said it or where I read it, though. It always stuck with me and makes me smile. This is paraphrased, of course.
“When I throw away one of those musical birthday cards, I feel somewhat guilty. I’m throwing away more computer technology than existed or even was dreamed of 100 years ago.”

Okay, cameras in cell phones. Everybody thinks it’s ridiculous until I postulate the following scenario. You have a fender bender accident, and the other driver seems pretty hinky. Might bug out at a moment’s notice. Take a picture of their license plate, and I abso-frakkin-lutely guarantee they will go NOWHERE. Then, take pictures of the scene, especially of anything that might help prove your side of things in court or to an adjuster. Finally, after having used the cell phone to call your insurance company, the cops and/or a tow truck, use the camera to take a nice up close and personal photo of the other driver’s ID–believe me, even at VGA quality that’s plenty good enough when loaded onto a computer to be readable (I have an old digicam that’s half the res I used to use in lieu of a copier at the library or to take detail shots of paintings in museums to copy costumes from. ) Now tell me how pointless and stupid that cameraphone is.

Did you notice that none of the above requires you to have any sort of extra cost feature from your wireless provider?

Some other scenarios:

Take a candid pic of that guy buying you a drink, it could come in handy if you get Roofed.

If Natalie Holloway had sent a pic of her last date to her mom her murder might not be such a mystery now, ya think?

Your SO sends you to the store to get a very specific item. You find three you think might be right, but you aren’t completely sure. Send a pic, let him/her decide!

Hey mom, does this dress make me look fat?

Hmmm, I’m at the hardware store trying to figure out which fitting I need to buy and they all look just alike–good thing I took a pic of where it’s supposed to go to help me identify the right item.

Here’s a picture of the bug/snake/animal that bit me doc–am I gonna live?

Shall I go on? :stuck_out_tongue:

I carry a candybar Nokia with a monochrome screen. It rings, dials, has voicemail and a clock. That’s all I want or need from a phone. I don’t need a 12MP camera with a telephoto lens, or the ability to play Tekken 3, or ringtones recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra.

Why a candybar? No moving parts to break.

You could also write down their license plate number. Or carry a disposable camera with you in the glove compartment for the same purpose.

Other than the life-or-death scenarios, we lived without camera phones for a very long time.
The Natalie Hollaway thing I think I’ve seen played out on Law & Order a couple of times - girl is raped or beaten, but manages to get off a cell phone camera shot of her assailant.
An ER doc is never going to make a diagnosis from a camera phone picture. Kill the critter without completely squashing it, and bring it in with you.
If your SO wants such a specific item, have them write down exactly what it is. Serial number, brand name, color, size, etc. Better yet, make them go get it.
Want to know if the dress makes you look fat? Try it on. Ask someone other than the salesperson. Buy it and show your mom and then return it if it makes you look fat. Of course, your mom is never going to say you’re fat.
Hardware store dilemma? Take the part with you.

I’m not saying they aren’t handy, I just don’t think they’re absolutely necessary.

I tend to buy, wherever possible, devices that only include features I will actually use, or those that I might honestly contemplate using during the life of the device. I use all of the features on my phone; camera, web browser(OK, not very often), mail client(a lot); diary functions, games, sound recorder. To a certain extent this is made possible by the fact that it’s a PDA/phone, so I can install/uninstall applications as needed, but every feature it currently has, I use.

My cellphone has a camera. I thought it would be useful, but it really isn’t. For starters, the camera is too crappy to be useful. The pictures only look good in thumbnail sizes, anything larger is too grainy. Mostly, however, I have no desire to take pictures of everyone and everything, like I’m some sort of awestruck tourist. Also, if the camera was of good quality, the phone would be so expensive that I’d be afraid to carry it around with me, for fear of breaking it.

And taking pictures surreptitiously? Really, now. 99% of people who take pictures with their cellphones couldn’t be any more blatant if they asked the subject to say “Cheese.” People don’t normally hold their phone at arm’s length, carefully adjusting the angle :stuck_out_tongue: