21st Nov 2012
Have you seen the forward about why railway tracks are spaced the way they are? The forward says it has something do with the ox-carts of centuries ago. I don't know how far the story is true, but we can see this "hangover" phenomenon in quite a few things that we do (and don't do) with technology and gadgets. Why are our keyboards like this? Why do we take group photos? Starting off the list is...
1. FM radio
Before TV, radio was urban people's window to the world. News was the important use; entertainment followed, and later, advertising.
These days, FM radio is listened to most often in cars and on public transport. But why FM? Why not, say, recorded podcasts, or your music collection on CD or USB? Well, some of it is useful and entertaining. But (I might be wrong here), people put up with the ads as much as they enjoy the rest of it; plus, we’re increasingly getting song snippets instead of songs.
I’m sure that if FM radio stations were introduced today — with their current mix of buffoonery, ads, and actual entertainment — there wouldn't be too many takers. Is listening to radio a hangover from Ceylon and Vividh Bharti days?
2. Compulsive e-mail
E-mail per se is one of our most important communication methods. But I'm talking about the compulsiveness of it. You'll see a good number of self-improvement sites and personal-growth gurus talking specifically about kicking the e-mail habit: "Stop processing your mail first thing in the morning," they exhort.
Leaving aside spam and funny forwards, e-mail is work. Why would it be compulsive? I think the answer is in AOL's chirpy "You've got mail." Back in the 90s, receiving an e-mail was an exciting event. (“Hey someone wrote me an e-mail over the Internet!”) Ten and twenty years before that, receiving a letter was an exciting event. It's carried on from there up until here: Checking, postponing, and deleting mountains of mail — and loving it.
3. Keyboards, the way they are
Most of our keyboards are shaped almost exactly like typewriters, for those who remember the latter — and the keyboard layout is exactly the same. There was a brief period in the 90s when people experimented with the Dvorak keyboard layout (and possibly others), claiming that it improved typing speeds. And there was a brief period when it seemed that ergonomic keyboards (like the Microsoft Wave, and later, Kinesis’ keyboards) would become popular. (Then portable devices came along and spoilt all the fun and progressiveness.)
So now, I'm typing on a rectangular device with the P at the top right and the E on the top row. Why? Habit over generations, I'm guessing.
4. Reading the newspaper
Many people get their news, derive entertainment, and attain a sense of importance when they read the newspaper with the morning cup of tea / coffee (depending on location in India). Why?
Let's put it this way: Why in the morning, why with tea/coffee/breakfast, and why this (or that) particular newspaper? Assuming Internet connectivity, (a) you get news round the clock; (b) you get junk sites but also the real stuff; and if you want, (c) you can read the same thing online as you do in the morning paper version. But it's a habit of over a century and a half.
5. Keeping your phone or phablet to your ear
Take 30 seconds to think about it: The only reason we keep cell phones (and even outsize phablets) to our ears is because of AT&T's 1949 Model 500. With today's gadgets, the choices range from hands-free to Bluetooth headset to wired headset to headphones with invisible mics — all of which are, in some way or the other, better than holding the thing to your ear. "Stuck in an era," we call this.
6. Making a group of people pose
Armed with a digital camera, living in 2012, and using GPS to navigate to a holiday spot, we make people line up and smile for the camera. Why?
There was good reason to do that in the time of the Daguerrotype and later. Film wasn't unlimited, only photographers could take photographs, and it wasn't a simple matter to process the film. And so, it made sense for a group of people to be brought together and photographed at one go. The focus was the film (bad pun intended).
Today, our digicams are telling us, "Go ahead and capture life as you see it!" Instead we line people up. (How often do you see people lined up and smiling — except for a photo?)
7. The TV in the living room
This one isn't really a hangover from a non-technological age — it's a habit from when TVs were expensive. The home TV was placed in the living room because only one TV could be afforded; it was an item to show off; plus, everyone in the house wanted to watch it because it was a novelty.
In many cases, it makes complete sense to have a TV in the living room. But what about a household of three people, where one is a young child? Or in a house that can easily afford three small TVs? There's still only one, and it's still the centrepiece of the living room. Ask why, and your question won’t be understood.
In what other ways are we stuck in years bygone? Comment below!