It’s a strange world.
One minute I’m reading a caribou-hunting account by author Seth Kantner, an author, and columnist who has lived for decades in a remote area of northwest Alaska; and the next I’m learning about “intelligent toilets” and “automatic face makeup,” two innovations introduced recently at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
I think acceptance of the latest electronic wizardry is primarily a function of a person’s age. Almost universally, young people gravitate toward what is shiny and new. I’m glad about that. I think we’d find it rather strange, and a giant step backward, if our children rejected smartphones in favor of tin cans with a string.
But I can’t help think that human inventiveness sometimes stumbles over practicality and common sense—that our imaginations have run riot with advances in miniaturized computer chips, 3-D printers, and modern materials.
I know someone with a voice-command Alexa in his house and to his wife’s dismay, he is constantly shouting loudly and repeating his commands to turn things on and off. How difficult is it to manually flip the switch?
Do I really want a refrigerator to tell me what items need to be restocked?
I’m not the cantankerous sort, but I’d find it annoying and a serious waste of time to be engaged in arguments with my appliance: “I don’t want to replace the milk this week,” and: “no, I’m not getting that kind of butter again!”
However, I might consider a truly smart refrigerator that tells me: “The FDA has recently announced that the sodium level in that particular brand of TV dinner is exceptionally high.”
Such a refrigerator might play something like the “Rocky” theme if you reached for something healthy and nutritious; and conversely, an arm reached out and slapped your hand if you tried to grab the ice cream.
But what I’d really prefer is a self-cleaning, item re-arranging, long-lasting, seen-and-not-heard refrigerator.
Another item introduced at CES 2019 was an 8K television.
I have no idea what it will look like once it’s commercially available. But I can’t believe that the screen image will be much different than the 4K Ultra LED High-Definition Super Resolution set I have now. But I guess that’s a “wait and see.”
Then there is the Matrix Power Wristwatch that receives its electric charge from one’s body heat, with a solar power backup. Handy in Alaska’s long, dark winter; especially for hunters and trappers in the Kobuk River area, (Seth Kantner’s stomping grounds) where temperatures reach -50 degrees Fahrenheit.
I can see benefits to the Walking Car presented at CES 2019.
In gridlock traffic, you could literally “walk around” the traffic jam and “over” obstacles in front of you. In the “walk” mode, traction on ice might be better, and you wouldn’t have to change tires so often. But it might take a lot longer getting to work unless the walking car actually “runs.”
I noticed that the door-mounted Ring camera rolled out at CES 2019 is easily accessible to burglars who wish to remove it before breaking into your house.
While it probably costs about $14.85, the meatless “Impossible Burger” sounds delectable, but hardly affordable. Unlike flat screen TVs, I don’t think these burgers’ price will go down very quickly. I doubt I’d sacrifice a few cups of good coffee at Jitter or Starbucks for one of these new miracle sandwiches. But then, there is curiosity.
Call me a Luddite, but here’s the rub:
- I liked knobs that allowed me to tune my radio dial, rather than push buttons;
- I liked car-headlights that didn’t require a JPL engineer to replace;
- My old analog cell phone often worked on distant mountain tops because it could operate with a weak signal, unlike the digital smartphones that require a very strong signal;
- I liked sending printed tax forms to the IRS that couldn’t be intercepted online by hackers;
- I liked receiving Christmas cards and printed family newsletters that took more than a keystroke to send via e-mail.
- I liked talking with live, interactive humans on the telephone rather than navigating phone mail jail or going to a website.
A case in point: One summer when I worked at a remote Alaska Department of Fish and Game site it rained incessantly for a month. Nearly all of our five boats were rapidly filling with water. While members of the crew argued and fumed for days about how to repair the broken gas-powered water pump, I took a five-gallon can and quickly bailed out all of the boats.
Yes, technology is good. I love my computer and iPhone. But sometimes, old school is better.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired grade school teacher.