originally published September 17, 2012
I like to consider myself a ravenous consumer of technology. I love my toys, my trinkets, my gadgets. When I was a kid, I’d look forward to my dad’s next copy of the Sharper Image catalog showing up in the mail almost as much as his next copy of the Victoria’s Secret catalog. If I could win a thousand dollar shopping spree anywhere, it would be at Skymall.
But technology is never perfect in its first draft. That’s why we have behavioral engineering – so that guys in white lab coats can watch how we play with our toys, and figure out how to make them better.
Behavioral science is used for safety reasons, for social welfare policy, and for lessening problems in prison. But I don’t care about that. I’m out for purely selfish aims today, so I’m going to offer some suggestions, upon observing my own behavior, on how the manufacturers I pay to fill my life with toys can improve their work.
Let’s start with my iPod. I love this thing. But I have since migrated my music over to my phone because (a) I finally have a phone with enough storage to hold every precious Thompson Twins album cut I own, and (b) the damn thing broke when I dropped it six (okay, maybe eight) inches onto the floor.
First of all, the iPod Classic does not use a solid-state storage system, like a USB memory stick. There are tiny moving parts in there, designed so that a forceful sneeze can break its internal mechanism. But that’s not what I’m complaining about. This isn’t about technological logic, it’s about behavioral engineering.
Here’s my concern. I have a wide range of music on my iPod. The device also contains a built-in clock. While I’ll make use of the playlist feature for certain occasions (working out mix, cooking mix, listening with my wife mix – meaning no Thompson Twins album cuts), usually I just hit shuffle on my entire library and groove to whatever comes up. For this reason, it should be inherently programmed into the unit not to play anything overtly mellow before nine in the morning. Seriously, I bury myself in my headphones every day on my way to work; as much as I may love 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love”, it just doesn’t set my motor on Monday speed.
This brings me just a short leap away to my phone.
Setting up an iPhone takes twenty, maybe twenty-two seconds. Why not take an extra little step and ask me if I’m a football fan? That way it can screen most of my Sunday afternoon calls, allowing only my fellow fans to call me so we can bitch about the replacement referees, or conduct our ritual chants for Tom Brady to wet himself on national television.
Also, would it be too complicated to make Siri a little bit programmable? I have been waiting for decades to replicate the ‘jive’ conversation from the movie Airplane! with someone, even an electronic voice. Siri could fill that void.
Am I asking for too much? I think not.
Okay cable company, I’m coming after you next. I have an issue with your remote controls.
My cable company has graciously provided me with two different remote controls for the two cable boxes I have in my house. These remotes are necessary; I cannot adapt the universal functions on my TV or Blu-ray remotes to work with these boxes. But there are so many damn buttons on the thing, I find myself actually having to deviate my gaze from that obnoxious insurance-peddling gecko commercial to find the right button to change the channel.
This is simply inhuman punishment.
I appreciate the elaborate functionality of these devices. But they should come with two remotes: one with all the gadgets, the picture-in-picture, the third-party surround-sound control, those weird ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ buttons that do, as far as I can tell, nothing, and one for everyday use. Give me giant, thumb-mashable directional buttons for navigating the on-screen guide, volume up and down, mute, and a power button. That’s it. Don’t confuse my life.
This next tip goes out to Toyota. I have been enjoying my Toyota for six years now, but I think I’d like a few tweaks on my next model. First of all, road-rage control.
They have sensors stuck all over cars nowadays, so you’ll know if you’re going to back over your lazy cat, if you’re unconsciously drifting into the shoulder, or if you feel like napping and letting the car parallel park itself. This one is simple. If I get cut off, I need to resist the urge to change lanes and accelerate until I’m parallel with the other driver, exchanging single-finger suggestions on how he or she can improve their skills as a motorist, perhaps by having sex with themselves.
If my car can detect a schnauzer beneath its rear bumper, why not sense when someone suddenly appears in my frontal proximity, followed by a lane change and a stomp on the accelerator pedal? If my car was programmed to take evasive behavioral action, perhaps by activating an in-dash disco ball and switching to some calming music (like 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love”, for example), I might save myself some high blood pressure and a potential physical altercation at the next exit.
I’m just saying, humans need to be reminded to be human sometimes.
My last suggestion for behavioral improvement goes out to the makers of plug-in air fresheners.
Apart from the fact that I haven’t found one that diffuses my favorite smells (bacon, my favorite Chinese food restaurant, a toasty hydroponic indica, or bacon), they seem to run at a constant rate. I know, they make some where you can push a button and it diffuses its scent, but that’s not how I want these things to work.
Most of my electrical sockets are a few inches off the floor. By coincidence, that’s about the height of any of my four bulldogs’ anuses at any given time. I believe these air fresheners should operate at a low constant hum, but kick in a strong dose of relief whenever they detect a disturbance in the ground-level odorsphere. By this I mean they should detect dog farts.
Bulldog farts could be used in hostage situations to smoke out the criminals. I’m sure they are mentioned somewhere in the Geneva Convention as unfair punishment for war-time. I need technology that can keep up with my pain and heal it.
Ideally with the sweet smell of bacon.
And maybe play some 10cc. Make the moment more pleasant for everyone.