[EAS]Things get chatty

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Apr 15 16:34:50 EDT 2002

Subject:   Things get chatty

(from NewsScan Daily, 15 April 2002)

We're just at the beginning of a new age of products, devices and
objects  that talk to us -- and to each other. "We're really talking
about the next  50 years of computing," says the executive director
of the Auto-ID Center at MIT, which is one of the organization
studying ways of using computer  chips embedded in tiny pieces of
plastic attached to just about everything, including egg cartons,
eyeglasses, books, toys, trucks, and money. The tags are currently
known as Radio Frequency Identification Tags (REIG), and the 
Auto-ID Center calls the core of its standard "ePC" or Electronic
Product  Code. Companies such as Wal-Mart, Gillette, and Procter &
Gamble have  committed to using the technology. As for privacy
issues? Accenture scientist Glover Ferguson agrees that privacy
will be an issue, and says:  "There will have to be a social
discourse about what we want and don't  want. But the technology
isn't going away. You can't un-invent it." (USA  Today 11 Apr 2002)

Well, 'alive' is a bit strong, 'insistently chatty' strikes me as
more like it. Even though I'm an execrable typist, I've never felt
that talking to my computer (when I tried voice commands or voice
text entry) was an engaging alternative. Maybe human speech is too,
well, uniquely human, to waste on machines. And I don't have a dog,
so have not explored that aspect of voice communication. Nor do I
like my computer to talk to me. I need quiet to really think, and
being seen but not heard is part of makes my relationship with my
computer productive. I don't even like to hear the fan.

So I am ill at ease with everything having radio frequency tags, or
even an Internet connection, as some have proposed, letting 'things'
swell the techno-babble around us. We need to pay attention to our
latter-day Henry David Thoreaus who remind us of the need for a
reflective individual life shaped by inner principles. Charles
Handy's recent book "The Elephant and the Flea," which I've started
to read, falls into that category
<http://jove.eng.yale.edu/pipermail/eas-info/2002/000445.html>, as
does the work of Steve Talbott
<http://www.oreilly.com/people/staff/stevet/netfuture/>. And the
equivalent of Thoreau's essay on "Civil Disobedience" would be one
on consumer disobedience.

So we actually have Thoreaus among us now, but like Henry David they
are likely to be too little heeded in their time and only
appreciated later. Although we speak of living in the
post-industrial age, only the technology has changed, not the
attitude. The motto of the 1933 Century of Progress International
Exhibition in Chicago exclaimed, to a depression-weary world,
"Science Finds -- Industry Applies -- Man Conforms"
<http://www.alteich.com/tidbits/t011000.htm>.  Shouldn't we have
more perspective amidst our greater present affluence?

> "... But the technology isn't going away. You can't un-invent it."

Humbug. Don't buy it. It's probably poorly desiged, by people who
only know about chips and not the basic necessary functions, like
what makes a toaster good.


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