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Are We There Yet?

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Last week I had to attend a couple of press briefings up in London. After the first presentation ended I set forth with a few of my tech journo colleagues in the direction of the second press conference. This journey included a short train ride, and then what should have been an even shorter walk from the station, but things don’t always work out the way they should. You see we all knew roughly where the next venue was, but not the exact location, but we weren’t too worried as one of the group had a PDA/phone/GPS device in his pocket, so what could possibly go wrong?

As soon as we stepped out of the Underground station we opened up the GPS and waited to get a satellite lock, and waited, and waited, and waited a bit more. OK, we had a fair idea of where we needed to be so we started walking – the GPS would get a lock soon right? About half a mile down the road we managed to get a lock on three satellites and were just about to enter the post code of the venue when the GPS screen disappeared and the device started ringing – it seemed that an incoming call overrides the GPS functionality. Right, phone call dealt with and post code entered, then “Ring Ring” – yep someone else was calling, and once again we were no closer to finding out where we needed to be.

Eventually people stopped calling my fellow tech reporter (it seems he’s a popular guy) and we were finally able to get some kind of directional assistance from his pocket size atlas. Off we marched for about 200 yards before the device changed its mind and told us to go back the other way. Dutifully we obeyed, following the new directions until once again it told us to turn around and helpfully informed us that we were only 55 minutes away from our destination! Something was very wrong indeed.

At this point one of our (all male) group committed heresy and ran across the road to ask a passer by for directions. There’s a certain irony about four locals sporting cutting edge navigation technology turning to a Japanese tourist with a map book for directions. Nonetheless, within a matter of seconds we had discovered the exact location of our destination, and I’m glad to say that it wasn’t 55 minutes away.

This whole experience highlighted a simple fact to me – although technology is a wonderful thing, it’s not necessarily the best solution all the time. Sometimes traditional methods are both quicker and easier, but we so often feel that we have to persevere with new technology, just because it’s there.

It’s quite scary when we start to rely on technology so much that we will insist on using a convoluted approach to the very simplest of problems. A few weeks ago Spode asked me a question about a review that we’d published, I told him that I didn’t write the review and he should ask Benny. Spode then turned back to his screen and started tapping away at his keyboard – I asked him what he was doing and he replied “I’m asking Benny like you said”
“But Benny is ten feet away from you!” I replied incredulously. To which Spode told me that it was “easier” over MSN. It was apparently easier for him to turn to his keyboard, open a new MSN window and type a message to Benny, rather than just open his mounth and ask him the question directly! Obviously I made him close the window and have a “vocal” conversation with Benny instead to maintain some degree of sanity in the office. But the fact that Spode's first instinct was to use an instant messenger rather than his vocal chords was quite disturbing.

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