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Technology always fails Tue, Oct 06, 2009
A few weekends ago, I was using the GPS function on my phone to find a friend's house in rural Massachusetts.  The thing about my phone's GPS is that it needs a data connection as well as a GPS connection in order to work.  This is fine for heavily populated areas and interstates, but not so good for everywhere else on earth, such as a friend's house in rural Massachusetts.  Needless to say, my phone stopped working the second I got off the interstate, leaving me fumbling around with a useless phone in a completely unfamiliar area. 

Similarly, but quite differently, there were these two mushrooms that popped up in the middle of my yard over the weekend seemingly out of nowhere, acting like they owned the place.  The grass is dying, some leaves are falling, there are seventy billion acorns, and these mushrooms are like, "What's up?"  So naturally I got my camera and took a picture.  Right before I could take the second picture (the first one is never good) my camera stopped focusing and wouldn't let me press the shutter button.  That's when I noticed a warning light telling me the battery was pretty much dead. 

The central theme of both these stories is simple:  Technology always fails exactly when you need it.  I don't need GPS service on the interstate, I need it in rural areas.  A camera without a battery is worse than no camera at all.  Satellite TV loses signal when there's cloud cover, when all you want to do is watch TV.  My electric razor always dies right in the middle of shaving my face, leaving me half-shaved and pissed off. 

For product designers and engineers, the solution to these problems would be to anticipate failure, and make adjustments.  Anticipate a lost GPS signal, and give the user a simple list of turn-by-turn directions.  Have a better battery meter that alerts the user before, not after, the battery dies.  Admit that a satellite signal has been lost, and advise the user to go read a book.  Allow the device to be used while charging. 

It's stupid to produce a product and think it'll always be used in a perfect world under ideal circumstances.  Technology always fails.  Fix it. #technology


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