Thursday, June 02, 2005

How Things Work

Nobody can understand how all technology works. But it always surprises me how so many people can go through life in delightful ignorance, not only unaware of why their car moves forward or there is sound in the radio, but not even being curious about it. It is not hard to find out how things work. Gone are the days of wiring diagrams and complex mathematical formulae. You can find excellent explanations, helpful graphics and animation schemes describing how many common technologies work.

But no. People want to press a button and just have it done. And therein lies the problem. If you don't know how things work, you don't know what is hard. So you invest in natural language systems (speech recognition has been a promising technology for 30 years) or systems that can predict the stock market. Or you go out and spend a fortune on pyramid schemes or magnet therapy. And wander through life, "mouth agape in doltish wonder," to quote Paul Fussell.

-- Espen Andersen, The S-Curves of Sinks, and Technology, "Ubiquity", Volume 6, Issue 19 (June 1-8, 2005)

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