5 Simple Problems Technology Should Have Fixed by Now
Technology means progress. That's what we've been told ever since Ted Technology, inventor of Technology, invented the first Technology. Well, I'm here to tell you, folks: Ted had a lot of virtues -- good friend, brilliant with machines, dong like an active fire hose -- but the man was a pathological liar. Technology does not always mean progress. Sometimes the simplest tasks are left behind by the unceasing forward march of technological development, where they sit huddled, frightened, and alone -- left to die in the vast and unforgiving tundra of obsolescence.
Looking Up Song Lyrics
The Internet was the greatest technological leap since fire. It has interconnected every corner of the globe, and it houses very nearly the whole catalog of human knowledge. But God help you if you want to know what the fuck Blur was talking about in that "woo-hoo" song. Because to find that information, you have to travel into the seedy, lawless underbelly of the Internet. All song lyric sites, for no reason anybody can explain, are run by Third World cyber mafias that instantly gang rape your antivirus the second you type "pump up the jam lyrics" into Google. It is a foregone conclusion that if you actually click on Lyricspimpz.somalia, you will come away with two things: a set of laughably wrong lyrics to "Cherry Pie," and a virus. And not just any virus; you'll come away with the Conan the Barbarian of malware. It will rape and pillage your C:\ directory just to hear the lamentations of your Program Files.
"Conan! What is best in life?"
"To crush the registry, see it driven before you."
But ... why?
Back when physical CDs were a thing, we had this shit handled with basic liner notes. If you wanted to know if Kurt Cobain said "been a son" or was just a real big fan of Benny Sun, the famed East Asian prop comic, you flipped open that little booklet in the front of the CD and your problem was solved. But now we all have relative supercomputers in our hands that could deliver the complete text of The Iliad in friggin' Klingon, and yet every time your favorite singer mumbles, you still enter a cyber kumite with the life of your $1,000 laptop as collateral.
Delivering Any Kind of Signed Document
You know when we invented the fax machine?
Motherfuckers still thought the cure for scurvy was "positive thinking," and that dipping your man-wick in the blood of a rabid fox ensured you'd conceive a son. You know when we finally phased the fax out of use? Fucking never! Without even standing up right now, I can scan any document in full color in under 10 seconds and send that sucker whipping across an encoded netherworld of pornography to any location in the world. Yet virtually every major transaction of documents still requires that I stand up, go outside, hop in my car, and drive to a mysteriously unadorned "packing store" that always smells like cardboard and semen, where I will pay $1 to feed my precious signature into a machine that's half a step up from a well-disciplined bird. Then I will stand around for two hours, hoping that the steam-driven Printomofaxualizer on the other end of that line will accept my transmission.
HINT: It will fucking not.
Sure, there are online services that mimic faxing, but:
A. They cost money.
B. They don't work.
C. Why the fuck are we using our far superior machines to emulate obsolete technology?
This isn't retro gaming: Just accept a goddamn attachment, people who need signed documents! But then, maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe it's not the fault of the Realtors and bankers and car salesmen of the world. Maybe they need a fax because ...
Every Printer in the World Is Broken
Sometime in 1993, every tech developer on Earth got together, looked at their printers, and said, "Welp, it almost works sometimes. Good enough for me!" Then they all left to play an exceptionally giddy game of grabass together, and we have not spent one single second since then trying to nail down a functional printer design.
I have literally never met anybody with a working printer. I have never even met anybody who has met anybody with a working printer. Oh, we all seem to remember a time when the printer worked flawlessly -- but do we? Do we really? Ask your wife; your roommate; your kids. Did ... did that printer ever really print something? Anything?! OK: Point to it.
"Wood pulp ...text ... what ... is this?!"
That's because the printer industry long ago gave up on building a functional machine that turns basic code into text. That's impossible; it's the stuff of science fiction! They figured it was better to invest their money in Total Recall-style memory implantation instead. Every time you hit "print" and get a successful plain white piece of paper with little black markings on it, you are, in reality, briefly shunted into the Matrix, where the idea that you printed something is incepted into your brain by an elite squad of dream warriors. However, your mind can only handle about eight months of constant memory alteration by any one specific inception team before it starts rejecting the changes and you suffer an aneurysm. Which is why every fucking printer on Earth seems to break exactly eight months after you buy it.
And if it doesn't break on its own, HP will send some guys over.
So what do you do? You go out and buy a new one -- that's one of your hints right there! Nobody can fix a consumer-grade printer. That nice IT man's face will melt into a swirling whorl of screaming numbers if you even ask. No, your only option is to buy a new dream-interface machine and be assigned a different team of Mind Erasers. Not buying my theory?
You goddamn explain it, then.
We have 3D printers now. We can literally print working automobiles and assault rifles, but we still can't print out an entire Groupon for an erotic Thai shadow massage without self-destructing the $100 piece of dusty machinery sitting on our office floor.
Looking Up a Restaurant's Menu
The bulk of information on the Internet consists of text and pictures. The transmission of text and images was among the first feats the Internet ever accomplished, and it excels at both of those tasks to this day. But nobody told that to every single restaurant in history. Oh, they'll have a website with a tab that says "menu," and the hopeless optimist in you will click on that tab, expecting a list of dishes and prices, or maybe even a scanned image of a physical menu.
But you will not get either of those things.
What you will get is a prompt for a PDF download, because restaurateurs are apparently the only people keeping Acrobat Reader afloat. Now, a PDF download is all well and good, if two conditions hold true: you are sitting at home in front of a desktop computer running a current version of Windows, and you have all relevant Adobe programs installed, updated, and ready to run.
There are two people on Earth who meet those criteria: the lead engineer in charge of updating Acrobat every 23 seconds, and Pamela Westwood, a housewife in Atlanta who suffers from severe OCD and has been trapped at her laptop for the last seven years, obsessively clicking "update now" over and over again.
"OK. Last one. Last one. Last one. WHY HAS NOBODY COME FOR ME? Last one. Last one ..."
If you're not one of those two people -- if you're trying to access a restaurant's menu from, say, a mobile device -- you will get a download that will never finish, and would not open if it did. Simple text or scanned images would do the job fine, but Big PDF has the food service unions in their pockets, and restaurant owners would have their knees broken by burly men in jaunty red and white suits if they ever tried to post something as audacious as "Pot Stickers: $2.50" on their websites.
Watching TV Shows Online
Look, I know online access to popular television shows occupies a complicated gray area involving cable monopolies and exclusivity contracts and oh my God I'm so bored already that the rest of this sentence is now going to be about Transformers fucking: Jazz stroked the quivering Decepticon's cockpit lustily, staring deeply into his ocular scanners. "Let's see why they call you Starscream," he muttered.
I don't care about backroom deals and corporate maneuvering. I'm just saying that it baffles me that I can pull up a live-cam of a South Korean man's toilet -- every South Korean man's toilet -- right now, but I can't watch Game of Thrones on my media center unless I pay $140 a month for 7,000 other channels that I will only ever accidentally watch if my dog steps on the remote.
"Coming up next on The Learning Channel: Horse Masturbators!"
There are two networks that I'm interested in: HBO and AMC. That's it. I would gladly pay for access to their whole lineups (even though there are maybe five shows between the two networks that I would actually watch), just because I like the idea of supporting quality work. I'm less crazy about funding 600 wholly unrelated channels that serve as digital hurdles for me: inert obstacles that bar my unimpeded progress to the new episode of The Walking Dead.
We've had video on the Internet for longer than I can remember, largely thanks to Internet videos utterly destroying my attention span, and the fact that virtually every major television network looked at this vast, untapped online audience -- this audience who, instead of buckling down and accepting their shitty bundled packages as intended, has opted to just outright steal the programs -- and thought, "Yep, this looks about right!" is staggering.
But then, as I was typing that horrible run-on sentence, 16 children in Africa were eaten by hippos. So I guess I should probably just shut up about my "problems," yeah?
Buy Robert's stunning, transcendental, orgasmic science fiction novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, right here. Or buy Robert's other (pretty OK) book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.