Thursday, January 14, 2010

The future is now, but you wouldn't exactly know it. (The Great Ranking of Problems)

I have a new cell phone, and, as usual, I got the most-expensive phone my provider would give me for free. The phone I got I picked out specifically because it had a full QWERTY keypad. I needed that because I've grown to like text messaging as yet another way I can appear to have human interaction and contact without actually interacting or contacting other humans. In the bubble of isolation I'm building to live my life in, text messaging is a key pillar of support.

That's assuming that bubbles have pillars of support. They probably do. I'd have to be an engineer to know, though, and if I was an engineer, I'd probably not care to know the answer to that because I'd be boring.

One feature of my old cell phone that I particularly liked, beyond the keyboard, was voice dialing. I liked it not just because it was convenient, but because it felt right, what with me living in the 21st century and all.

The 21st century, outside of voice dialing and a few other areas, has not really lived up to the hype, has it? Most of the things that we think are so great are not really innovations at all so much as they are incremental improvements. Everyone's all excited about blogging and Youtube and Facebook (which'll let convicts flip off the police but won't let me be a member), but those things aren't futuristic advances worthy of the 21st Century; they're just the same old things on a new screen. Youtube is TV and home movies, but on my desktop. Blogging is gossip and small talk, but typed up. I may be reading a book on a Kindle, but it's still a book.

(I've talked about this theme before -- the idea that things aren't really new at all -- here.)

Voice commands on my phone, though, seemed to me to fit the bill for something that was 21st-Century-Esque. I was able to hold my phone and say "Call Home," and it would do it. That was science-fictiony and new and fun. That was something that seemed to be fulfilling at least a small promise made by the future back when I was young and the future was still the future instead of the future being the present, as it is now.

That's where today's problem comes in. My new phone, too, has voice commands. But to access the voice commands, I have to hit five different buttons. I have to hit OK to activate the keypad, then I have to hit menu, then media, then click down to voice command, then okay, then I get to say who I'm calling.

To dial home, I have to hit only 8 buttons -- the phone number plus send. With shortcuts, I can reduce that to 3. So it's actually harder and more distracting to dial by voice.

The first time I tried it, all I could think of was this: Would Han Solo have had to hit six buttons to control the Milennium Falcon by voice? I think not. (Then I remembered that Han Solo didn't have voice commands at all, and then I remembered that Star Wars actually takes place in the past, which is confusing because now the future is also the past, meaning that time has no meaning anymore, and then I decided just to quit thinking and get on with my life.)

That's the problem for today, though: Ridiculous levels of intricacy to voice commands for objects. I'm going to rank this one pretty high, too-- 32nd on the list -- because it's a pretty big problem that society can't figure out how to actually make things easier and we just accept that. We scrape food off our plates before putting them in the dishwasher, we have to change the vacuum bags, our cars windshield wipers have still not been adapted to be ice scrapers, as well, and now we have voice command objects that require me to essentially reprogram it each time I want to use a "simple" voice command.

Prior entries on
The Great Ranking Of Problems

Ridiculous levels of intricacy to voice commands for objects.

72. The pen ran dry midway through my signature (legal documents)

Family members imposing their diets on me

99: Spousal PB&J Incompatibility.

173: Preshoveling & reshoveling snow.

What to do about stuff I was going to buy but then it broke in the store and now I still want to buy the stuff but I don't want to buy something that was broken?

413: Guilt Over Meanness To Sentient Paperclips
. . .
502: Having to wait forever, seemingly, for Italian food to cool down.
. . .

721: Printer not holding a lot of paper at once.
2,624: Unidentifiable Mystery Song Stuck In Head.
5,000: Lopsided Nail Clipping.
7,399: Potato(E?)s?
. . .

13,334: The pen ran dry midway through my signature (signing stuff that doesn't really matter at all, so why am I signing it?)

14,452: Worrying that there's too much peanut brittle leftover to eat before it goes bad.
15,451: Almost napping.
22,372: Having hair which isn't quite a definable color.
22,373: Having too many songs on an iPod

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