I recently purchased a new alarm clock.  Normally, something as mundane as this would not be cause for celebration let alone the subject of a blog.  What was distinctive about this is that it is the third alarm clock I have acquired in less than six months.

The first was given to me as a Christmas present.  It was called a “water clock”.  The idea is that one is supposed to fill it with water, set the time, and voila!  It’s claim to fame is that it doesn’t run on batteries.  The problem was:  the directions were ridiculously complicated, it didn’t work properly, and the alarm malfunctioned.

After persevering for three weeks I finally relegated the water clock to the crawl space which is where all discarded products in my house go to die prior to be trashed.  I then went to my local hardware store and bought a new alarm clock.  I almost balked at paying $35 for something that should have been cost half the price.  I took it home, opened the box, and read the instructions. In truth, I read the instructions six times.  This product had so many steps involved in just setting the alarm that I actually lost count.  The person who translated the instructions must have had a bad day because the directions bordered on inanity.

I probably should have returned the alarm clock immediately but I didn’t.  Big mistake.  I persevered with it for a number of months.  Sometimes the alarm worked and sometimes it didn’t.  More often than not I used the alarm on my cellphone.

In frustration I went out this past week to my neighbourhood discount store.  I purchased my third alarm clock for the munificent price of $3.95 + GST/HST.  It has a large clock face, a knob to set the time, another knob to set the alarm time, and a little switch to turn the alarm on and off.  It works fine.  It is so incredibly simple a three-year old could operate it, which just about equals the limits of my technical capabilities.

My new $3.95 alarm clock. Simple and uncomplicated.

My new $3.95 alarm clock. Simple and uncomplicated.


The Alarm Clock Allegory

In case you hadn’t guessed my alarm clock story is an allegory for what is becoming the increasing complexity of our modern-day existence.  From infotainment centres on vehicles to smartphones (which aren’t all that smart considering their lack of ease and complexity) to business processes in general, it seems life is becoming more and more convoluted.  People are overwhelmed.  Technology was supposed to simplify our lives, but frankly, it hasn’t, and isn’t likely to in future.  Why?

I would submit there are several reasons for this:

  1. The desire for novelty and difference:  Too often, new products appear different, or offer a perceived benefit whose impact is comparatively minor.
  2. Lack of prior testing:  One would think that if you had designed a new product testing it before bringing it to market would be an obvious step.  Too often, it is overlooked and forgotten, or else the perceived negatives are minimized.
  3. Lack of proper design:  What may be a “no brainer” for one segment of the market may be overly complex for others. Not everyone is tech savvy.  We don’t all think or respond alike.
  4. Steep learning curves:  Mastering a new technology or product takes time.  Too often, the learning curve is too long, or the instructions are unclear.  Both factors contribute to an excessive amount of time in becoming familiar with the product.
  5. Being different doesn’t necessarily mean “simple” or “better”:  My latest alarm clock is fine.  It is far simpler than the two previous models.  However, someone perceived that using water was better than using batteries.  Personally, I never thought it was that problematic, but I suppose someone did.
  6. A solution in search of a problem:  Sometimes, manufacturers design and build something different as a means of attracting new buyers.  The old product or design probably worked really well, like my new alarm clock, but it isn’t sufficiently enticing to new consumers.

A decade ago we were all told that the advent of digitization would render paper copies obsolete.  However, the reality for many businesses is that sending customers a PDF file to download means that the onus for printing has simply been delegated to consumers.  People are still buying paper.  Shredding companies are still making a bundle.  Paper copies are plentiful.  Paper recycling is more popular than ever.

Technology Keeps on Evolving

My cousin recently purchased a Roomba iRobot vacuum cleaner for my birthday.  Prior to owning this I never thought vacuuming the house was a big deal.  I plugged in my Shark Navigator and away we went.

This gift was given with much love and the best of intentions.  However, it is indicative of why technology doesn’t always fit into our daily lives.

First, it is big and obtrusive.  The docking station requires a fair amount of space around it.  Second, you need to be close to your modem.  Third, you need to download the app and connect it to your IPhone or Android to properly configure it.  Fourth, it has a very small dirt receptacle.  If you’re like me and you have a dog, and especially, a hairy one, then it doesn’t take long to fill.  Fifth, it doesn’t like certain things like throw rugs, floor radiators, stairs, etc., all of which serve to confuse it.  Finally, in the time it takes for it to vacuum one room I could have vacuumed my whole house with my Shark and have time left over.

My New Romba (code named "Freddie) and my very dependable, but old fashioned, Shark Navigator.

My New Romba (code named “Freddie) and my very dependable, but old fashioned, Shark Navigator.

A Final Thought….

Technology was supposed to make our lives easier.  It was supposed to give us more leisure time.  It was supposed to simplify our routines.

Technology is not a panacea.  Recognizing its limitations, and understanding that sometimes it can create more problems than it solves, is an important step in properly apportioning technology in our daily lives.  For now, I’ll stick with my corded Shark vacuum cleaner and my simple alarm clock.  They may not be the most advanced technologies on the market, but at least they don’t complicate my daily existence.