The Technology Affair

December 15, 2009

In the post, “Have a Mind in Europe”, I wrote a note on technology. To refresh memories, I wrote that people in Europe understand technology, and that I would say more on it later.

It turned out to be much much later in the event.

Be that as it may, I stand (or rather sit) today pretty much an engineer. No, that’s going too far. Let’s rather say, I’ve completed a large chunk of my bachelor’s course in engineering. It looks like a large chunk of the rest of my life too is going to be spent doing engineering. And that means, having completed semester 7 of 8, I’m more or less vella. Vella enough to be reading my own old posts, and contemplating a topic for a new one. That’s when I re-read the aforementioned line, and thought, “So, almost-an-engineer, any new thoughts on technology?” Uh…

At the time I wrote the last piece, you see, I was just realizing that there was a fundamental difference between the way we perceive technology and how it’s seen in Europe, and wanted to write on that (what the billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles is wrong with this keyboard?! The cursor keeps automatically and quantum mechanically relocating itself (I just quoted a whole lot of different sources and it’s unlikely that you’ll know all of them, so don’t bother trying to figure it out (this nested brackets thing is fun.).).)

But at all events, Europe changed my perspectives on technology. Rather it changed my perception of what technology is. A 4-year old, if asked this question, would probably think of a rocket. And so would someone who’s spent 4 years at an IIT, just with more details thrown in about thrust and escape velocities. Meaning by implication that we’re just 4-year olds with knowledge of thrust and escape velocities (incomplete at that), but that’s off-topic, and we need to reach a conclusion at some point of time, so…

But the key to my room changed all that for me. An interesting little bugger. I lived on a “floor” of a house with 6 or 7 others and the room, floor and house all had keys. The interesting thing was that there was just one key for each person. The keys of all the house-residents opened the house door. The keys of all the floor-residents opened the floor door and each person’s key opened his or her room. So my key would open the house, my floor but not the other floors and my room but no other room in my floor. Quite a feat of design.

“I know,” said Joey, “It’s amazing, these little things open doors!” And I laughed at the poor moron. But looked at this way he’s right. It is amazing. If not amazing, then great engineering at any rate. And I started to notice how much “little engineering” permeated life. For instance, switches loaded with springs and timers on stairs, so you switched it on, and it would stay on for a while (giving you presumably enough time to navigate the stairway), and then switch off. Parking slot indicators to show where in a city parking is available. Et al.

To me this is as much engineering as rocket design. For me the mark of a truly brilliant creation is when (at least some) people start to take it for granted, and don’t notice it. Because that means it’s indispensable. Perhaps we should take a look at how much technology we use in our lives without thinking about it. Man-made wonders which we don’t notice anymore because they’re there. . And that’s today’s technology. Tomorrow’s will consist of everything the next generation won’t notice.

Maybe I’m the last one to realize this. But I think I don’t really give thanks for all the things I never notice. And I probably should. So this is it.

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