6 Ways Smart Technology Has Made Things Dumber

People are pretty technology-happy these days. We pore over rumors and specs on technology websites, we stand in line to get the newest gadgets, and we beat up people who dare own phones a couple years out of date. New technology isn't just anticipated, it's damn near fetishized. Witness the growing trend of "unboxing," YouTube videos dedicated to providing loving, tender footage of someone delicately taking a new product out of its packaging. Look them up if you want, but maybe make sure there's no one else in the room when you do it; they're seriously almost pornographic.

Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Making this image, I guess, basically bestiality. Kind of surprised I found it on a stock image site.

To be fair, the technology we all carry around with us, often just inches from our genitals, is pretty remarkable. These gadgets make life easier and improve it in any number of ways, and are, for the most part, worth getting excited over.

Just not always. In fact, more than a few times a new piece of technology foisted upon consumers has actually been significantly worse in some aspect than its predecessor. Often as not, this is the result of some sort of unfortunate side effect of the new technology, sort of like a new really efficient toilet that uses way less water, only it works by blowing instead of sucking.

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Which would lead to a different type of NSFW video.

And if that sounds unlikely, well, get a load of some of the reverse toilets that we already live with.

#6. Always-on Video Games

Video games used to be pretty simple. You'd buy one, and you'd slam it into your video game box, and you'd pick up the paddle, and you'd started playing with yourself. Sure, there were probably a few other sexual double-entendres involved that we couldn't pick up on, because we were kids, but otherwise they were pretty straightforward.

Photos.com/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images
"You know how to fix your cartridge, don't you? It's easy. Just put your lips together and blow."

But that simple process is increasingly no longer how these things work. Putting them in the box doesn't cut it anymore, not unless your box is connected to other boxes, and the other box is working properly and also has your credit card number. This is, in a nutshell, called Always-Online Single Player, and it's already crippled the launches of Diablo 3 and SimCity, and will do so for probably dozens more games to come.

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"Oh, EA, what have you done now, you bag of smashed assholes?"

We're used to new technology improving the consumer's experience, but there's no reason it can't improve the experience (or profit margins) of other stakeholders, as well. And that's exactly what's happened in this particular case, always-online video games being developed to deter piracy and secondhand sales. So really, the technology is better!

Just not for you.

#5. Digital TV

Cable television was originally analog, which, if I understand the Wikipedia entry for "analog" correctly, means that tiny little elves surfing sine waves carried your television programs to you at the speed of light.

John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images
Sounds legit.

Digital cable changed all that, by turning these sine waves into something that looked like escalators made of zeros and ones, which ... are better somehow? I guess the escalators travel faster than the speed of light?

Jupiterimages/Creatas/John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images
I'm sorry. I really should learn more about technology before I write these things.

The net result of all this is that digital cable can carry much more programming over the same wire and also incidentally make room for high-definition programming. Really, it's a perfect technological advance where everyone wins!

Except for people who like flipping through channels, that is.

According to a park bench full of angry old men I surveyed for this column, television used to be much better than it is now. You had a remote, much like we do now ...

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... and when you pressed a button on the remote, the channel changed. But not in two or three seconds like it does now. It changed instantly. It used to be so fast that you didn't even really need to watch a show, so easy was it to just watch every show all at once.

The reason for the delay is, as expected, a side effect of the technology that's giving us all these hundreds of channels in the first place. At some point, all of this digital content has to be turned back into an analog signal so that it can be absorbed by our stupid, low-tech eyeballs. This is also why digital and high-def cable require those clunky-ass cable boxes. "Changing the channel" has turned from a simple electronic switch into a complicated calculation, and a couple-second delay is all but impossible to get around.

Not that that's likely to placate a bench full of old men.

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Also, try not to get trapped into explaining how the "Input" button works to them.

#4. Compressed Music

In Latin, "audiophile" means "awkward person," and if you're ever in a conversation with one, you can get a fine demonstration of this by simply mentioning the phrase "dynamic range compression" and watching them instantly flop sweat.

Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Getty Images
"Holy crap, dude. You've got to warn people in the first three rows if you've got a condition like that."

Dynamic range compression is a production technique where the quiet parts of a song are artificially made louder, and the louder parts made quieter. The net effect of this dial twiddling is that the whole song will, on average, sound louder. And industry experts, with long experience studying the music consumption habits of idiots, know that idiots think music that sounds louder is "betterer."

Simon Bremner/Lifesize/Getty Images
"But the receipt specifically said a pair of pants."

Audiophiles, of course, hate it, as it ends up reducing sound quality in exchange for this loudness, and bemoan the ever-increasing amounts of compression record engineers are using in modern audio production, calling it a "Loudness War."

Wikimedia Commons
Which is a pretty aggressive name for something so dorky, instead of the Gwar album title that it really ought to be.

And that's also a little unfair; there are benefits to dynamic range compression other than loudness. Most notably, it makes a song sound more uniform on low-quality equipment, which isn't a trivial concern considering how much pop music is listened to on crappy little earbuds or on car stereos with the windows rolled down. Those are real customers -- possibly even the majority of customers -- and it makes some sense to adjust post-production techniques to accommodate them.

Simon Bremner/Lifesize/Getty Images
"Hey, thanks buddies!"

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