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Technology: Is It Overrated?

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Technology: Is It Overrated?

Is technology overrated? I don’t mean to imply that it’s unnecessary. I certainly wouldn’t deny that it’s been highly valuable. I just suspect that we rely on it more than we should. We often assume that the most advanced technical methods are the most useful, but they often add only complexity- and greater likelihood of failure.

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In the last few years, we’ve seen the release of multiple one-wheeled scooters or skateboards. Of course they would be unstable. So how can riders keep their balance?

The devices are self-balancing because they feature gyroscopes. The Ninebot featured here even includes an alarm to warn the rider against ‘over-leaning’.

Of course, a gyroscope is an impressive addition to a low-speed land vehicle. But why do you need it?  And why do you need an alarm against over-leaning? They seem necessary only for a vehicle that was poorly designed to begin with. A single-wheel vehicle is inherently unstable. Why, then, does it exist? Is it because the designer wanted to be remembered for a product that doesn’t look or function quite like anything has before? Is it because the manufacturer wanted a reputation for being original or ‘edgy’?

Of course, balance is necessary for a vehicle. But this doesn’t mean it needs gyroscopes. The vehicle can be reliably stable with four wheels placed at the corners. A four-wheeled vehicle doesn’t require delicate and expensive electronic gear to maintain balance, and its suspension is unlikely to need frequent repair.

In this case, the gyroscopes and alarms add nothing that can’t be attained with much older and less costly technology.

What should we ask ourselves about new technologies?

There are many other examples of technology that seems impressive, but adds little or no benefit.

Before we reject the conventional wisdom, we should ask how it became the conventional wisdom. Tools that seem inadequate to us now were once the best tools for someone. How were they supplanted by later inventions? Did the later inventions offer more efficiency? Did they reduce the cost of production? Did they increase comfort or security? Did they enable functions that were otherwise difficult or impossible?

In considering any new technology, ask yourself a few questions. What benefit can I derive from it? What will it do for my customers? And whatever it does, can I find a way to do it at more easily or at lower cost? Is an older method simpler, and less likely to need expensive maintenance? What are the long term costs?

Sometimes- though certainly not always- the older technology is better.


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