Sunday, January 18, 2015

Design and the Art of Smart

Smart is in and everywhere we look things are getting smarter, except they're not. Articles are popping up and telling us the wonders of this new smart world in which we can live.  Then they tell us that it's not here yet or we can't afford it, like the smart Google Glasses. But now Google Glass (which sold to the select few at first for $1,500) is being discontinued. Smart is no longer useful or what? Are you feeling like the dog that is chasing its tail? I sure am.

How many kids were killed in Sandy Hook school? What type of weaponry was used and how useful was the school's smart alarm system? The shooter, an avid video game fanatic and intrepid e-mailer to his soon-to-be-deceased mom, didn't need to be and wasn't "smart" in the usual sense, though. His gun could have been smart if it weren't for the paranoia-producing lobby of those who make and sell guns. It's our undeniable right to own dumb guns, isn't it?

And bullets? No, don't make bullets that are smart enough to be identified with specific marks on the casings. Who wants that? The only smart bullets for which there is a current patent are those intended not only to find their target, but to alter course and aid sniper attacks. How about a simple marking that can tell law enforcement where the bullet was bought?

Or does that limit our civil rights to fire guns as we would wish and wherever we wish? Probably would have limited, in some way, the recent shooting death of one woman in a Florida mall and wounding of another by an ex-husband. The man then turned the gun on himself and died. Smart or not?

In this world of smart, it's always a challenge to keep up and see whether smart is just clever, actually has some purposeful use for us or garners yet more media coverage that is without substance. And, of course, there's always that tag line that grates on the nerves. "But it's not ready right now. You'll have to wait a couple of years."

Years? I have to wait years for this to actually come to fruition? It's like looking at a documentary on the 1939 World's Fair. Are we still waiting for "Futurama" or whatever they were predicting? Didn't Robert Moses take care of all of that when he destroyed the communities in the Bronx in New York and gave us Long Island Levittown gridlock?

Ah, there I go again about the poor media. Will I ever let up on them and their attempts to be clever? No, I never will so let's put that story to bed. They are still telling us, regularly, about smart cars to prevent drunken driving, aren't they?

But are the auto manufacturers actually making those cars with these safety devices? Nah, not unless you pass a law that they have to have them like seat belts. History buffs might be interested to know that bicycles didn't have brakes until enough people had serious physical injuries. It's where the expression "header" comes from. Now brakes on bikes was smart, I agree.

Car makers would rather we concentrate on smart cars that will drive themselves, not ones that will prevent drunk driving. Which is more likely to have an important impact on the lives of most of us? How many people are killed by drunk drivers each year? How many people will be able to afford driverless cars? Or am I just being an overly educated Luddite, even though that's an oxymoron?

Hooray for design and creativity and all that, but also give us utility and affordability and sustainability. True, that's a demanding yardstick to use, but we must use it because we're losing too much by not adhering to that standard.

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