4 Everyday Technologies That Never Seem To Improve
If you don't keep up with the latest developments in tech, one day you'll look up from your book to find that all the kids are wearing VR goggles and riding around on electric suicide scooters. That day was several years ago. Our point is that changes happen fast ... for the most part. With some technology, it seems like we settled on one adequate solution and decided to simply not keep working on it. For instance ...
The Headphone Jack Has Stayed Unchanged For 150 Years
Phones today are trying to ditch the headphone jack, and customers are rioting. "Clearly," we tell each other, "this is a conspiracy by the corporations to make us shell out money for some proprietary BS other cable." And maybe that's true (it is), but phone developers are utterly baffled as to why we're so set on using tech that's left over from another century. I don't mean the 20th century -- that exact connector (officially known as the "phone jack") was invented in 1877 or 1878, and has not changed since. Or to be strictly accurate, it has undergone one change since -- 75 years ago, it shrank from from 0.25 in to 3.5 mm. And the quarter-inch variant is still in use today too, as you'll know if you've used a guitar amp or a keyboard.
The phone jack was originally invented for telephone switchboards, with human operators jacking in and jacking off all your call connections. If you're picturing women with bouffant hairdos and swing dresses, you're still thinking of the wrong century. Alexander Graham Bell first built these switchboards right after he invented the telephone, with phone jacks operated by teenage boys -- expert jackers -- in 12-hour shifts. He fired them decades later and shifted to women because the boys kept prank-calling people.
It's a pretty good invention for being 150 years old, though, isn't it? Easy to insert and remove, but still stays in securely. And you can plug it in correctly no matter which way you rotate it, which is more than we can say for USB plugs. Maybe this one deserves a stay of execution.
Locks Have Remained The Same For 150 Years (And Largely The Same For Thousands Of Years)
Your basic lock, where you stick in a key with bunch of teeth and then turn it to open the mechanism, is spectacularly old. That makes some sense. When you see one pop up in Lord Of The Rings or The Witcher, it doesn't look out of place. But the lock goes back even further than you think, all the way to Egypt 4,000 years ago. Early locks weren't so great, though. They needed a key with teeth, but they weren't super particular about a key having the right teeth. Stealing was easy, which is why the wilderness in RPGs is populated with 90% bandits.
It took until the 1700s for this general type of lock (called the pin tumbler lock) to be tweaked into the double-acting pin tumbler lock, which rejected most random keys one could collect from lootable corpses. Then in 1865, Linus Yale tweaked the design further, turning the keyhole into a cylinder filled with a plug which took a flat and serrated key. And ... that was it. That was the lock they had then, and that is the lock we have now. Your standard lock today can be jimmied using a pick and a torsion wrench exactly as easily and exactly the same way as a lock from the 1800s, to the delight of vampires everywhere.
People have tried to market more complicated locks, of course. Even back in the 1800s, experts were putting together master-crafted gimmick locks which they claimed no one could pick, and these were infinitely more secure than your front door's lock is today. But there was never much of a demand for locks that fancy, so the Yale cylinder tumbler lock won out. We all shrug and figure we want our door closed tight enough to deter a random passerby, but if anyone buys a $5.99 set of picks off Amazon, they're welcome to come on in and have their way with the place. We still make windows out of glass, after all.
We Had The Last Good Idea For Improving Toothpaste In The 19th Century
We've been trying to clean our teeth for longer than we've known what cavities are. For a few millennia, the process consisted of rubbing our chompers with whatever gritty stuff we could find. Then, in the 1890s, scientists came up with the one thing that actually fights tooth decay: fluoride. And though it took another half century for the FDA to approve it, they first started adding it to toothpaste all the way back in the 19th century. And we haven't advanced the formula since then.
Oh, companies have added all sorts of stuff, sure. But none of the other ingredients do anything to prevent cavities. The rest mainly give toothpaste the consistency buyers like, or give your tongue a tingly feeling, or make it taste like chemical bubblegum. Though some pastes specifically whiten teeth or break down tartar, when it comes to fighting decay, fluoride is the only effective thing in there. A few brands have micro ingredients that claim to help, but the science on these is, at the very best, "Maybe?"
Besides, the real goal with toothpaste should be improving remineralization -- that is, forcing teeth to suck up nutrients and grow back even stronger. And while there are new chemicals that seem to aid in this, they're probably not in the toothpaste you use now. In the future, maybe we'll have miracle paste made by grinding up the teeth of foolish Martians. And we'll look back and laugh at how we stuck with the simple stuff for so long.
Planes Simply Aren't Getting Any Faster
Flying has improved in many ways. Air was said to be the safest way to travel even back in the '50s, when the chance of an accident was 1 in 50,000. Today a passenger's chance of dying in a plane crash is 1 in 50 million. Plus, pilots now have all kinds of computers and navigation equipment that didn't exist decades ago. Tech is clearly advancing. So what about speed, always the big selling point for traveling by air? Well ...
Today, a commercial flight from New York to LA lasts about six hours. That same flight in 1967, before we'd landed on the moon? Also around six hours. In fact, it took about half an hour less back then (on the schedule, anyway -- schedules leave more room for unexpected delays today).
Suppose we were to make conventional plane engines, called turbofan engines, a couple hundred miles per hour faster. Sounds like something we should have managed over the past 50 years, right? Not really. That would push planes into something called the transonic range. At those speeds, planes hit maximum drag, and that's exactly as dangerous as it sounds. OK, what about faster than the transonic range, then? Also troublesome. Going above the speed of sound creates a sonic boom. Everyone on the ground hates that, which was why the one commercial supersonic flight (the Concorde) was restricted to a single path, New York to London or Paris.
Alright, but what if we can get around the sonic boom problem? Muffle the boom, replace windows with rocks, find everyone who objects and forcibly deafen them? Still troublesome. Supersonic flight requires a different type of engine, one that eats a lot more fuel. And I don't mean just double the fuel for double the speed, but ten times the fuel per person per mile. It's hugely expensive because of that. The Concorde charged $7,500 for a transatlantic flight, and eventually couldn't turn a profit. Hardly anyone wants to pay airlines ten times more to save three hours. If you're that rich and impatient, you probably use a private jet anyway.
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