September 23, 2014

ELIOT | Blame it on the Television Remote

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Although by reading this column you are proving you are an extremely genteel and obviously highly evolved individual, at times things in your life will probably go wrong. Sometimes, the things going wrong will be your fault and could have been avoided if you had paused to think before acting. Maybe you decided it would be a good idea to make and post ill-advised videos on YouTube early in high school and never considered an 18 year-old, college freshman version of yourself being more than a little embarrassed when someone quotes to him — midst lady wooing — from his “Hannah Montana Rap” at a Collegetown annex . . . hypothetically speaking, of course.

It is also possible that when life goes wrong, the blame can be placed elsewhere. Pretend you are spending another Saturday night at home in your jammies — maybe by choice. This time, however, it could be much worse because USC is playing Oregon in football on TV. The only issue is you cannot find the remote. Rather than simply having a button on the actual television to change the channel, it is a seven-step pneumatic actuation process, and the instructions for use are written in Martian hieroglyphics. In that case, watching the Home Shopping Network until you eventually fall asleep is not your fault … also obviously hypothetically speaking.

Sometimes, the the arrival of a faux-turquoise belt buckle in the mail is the television’s fault. Wearing that same faux-turquoise belt buckle to a Collegetown party where you are heckled as a result of your ex-stardom, however, falls all on you.

It may seem like the high-definition television is a perfectly designed device, but when changing the channel becomes more of a challenge than swimming the English Channel, it is clear the engineers at Samsung or Vizio or Panasonic could have spent a little more time doing usability testing. What’s worse is people will tend to blame themselves when they struggle to properly use an object.

Ourselves included, we live in a flawed world. Everything from your skin, to your resume, to your smartphone has room for improvement. (Although there is a young lady I see in my sociology course whose skin is so clear, I am convinced that it is just one poreless cell.) Consider the iPhone 6, released last week. Apple is a company that prides itself on innovation and unparalleled user experience, both in terms of software and hardware. Some of the finest human factors professionals in the world collaborated to put together what they thought would be the best smartphone available. Why, then, are the speakers bottom-facing rather than user-facing? Why is there no tactile feedback to actually let the user know when the receiver is on the ear? Why is that U2 album on there? Just like you are self-conscious about the fact that sometimes you sneeze so hard that you poop in your pants a little bit, so too is the iPhone 6 worried about the many tiny things that may have been overlooked in the design process.

The Apple Watch — announced the same day as the new iPhone — aims to be a consumer product game-changer as technology and fashion collide. What did they overlook? As Cambridge philosopher John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart (real name) described in a 1908 article, every event is said to exist in the past, present and future at various points it time.  Can an event exist in both the past and future? I’m afraid we either have to have our cake or eat it — not both. So yes, the biggest flaw with the Apple Watch is time is not real.

Does this mean you should not go out and spend $350 on a wrist-worn device you can use to automate your home’s entire lighting system? Not at all. As I said earlier, everything is flawed. The Earth-shattering realization that time is merely a human construct and does not actually exist should not be enough to stop you from waiting in line or camping out for a watch with a glass touch-screen. Just keep in mind that nothing perfect exists when the vibrating navigation commands from the device are confusing or ambiguous. If it is a problem that you are experiencing — Apple product related or otherwise — doubtlessly many other people have faced or are facing something similar. Remember that at the end of the day, there is only one critic who you will ever have to answer to, and it’s yourself. Feel comfortable knowing sometimes it is acceptable to blame an inanimate object for your problems. Keep in mind also, though, the designers of every product you ever misuse intended for its operation to be clear, and pause to think about how your own actions could be misinterpreted by those around you before carrying them out. Most importantly, however, know that if you think you look cool wearing a faux-turquoise belt buckle, then wear the damn belt buckle.