27 June 2007


Technology that ignores indexing

It's true, I'm including a link to this video because, frankly, it made me laugh. Witness a satire of Microsoft Surface. Yes, it's funny, but I found myself thinking about how technologies are so often designed to create needs, not to meet existing needs. I mean, it's fascinating to imagine a table that has a computer screen as a surface, but what about building height adjusters into the legs so they don't wobble? And as I continued to think about this, I discovered I have two reasons to put this video in my blog.

First, there's the opening sequence in which someone is looking at digital photos and videos scattered across the tabletop. With his fingers, the Surface user can move them around, open then, and even video the videos. In other words, the engineers of this expensive table have managed to reproduce the worst part of photographs: the pile of undifferentiated images. If someone came to you and dumped a box of photographs on your table, would you be happy? Now, what if all those photographs were digital? This is technology that completely ignores indexing. Compared to tools like Picasa, which puts metadata to work, this product does its best to create an interface option where metadata is ignored. And if you're one of those "old-timers" who longs for the physical-contact nostalgia of long-ago days of printed photographs, such that you might think shuffling through a pile of photographs would be fun, think again. Remember, these are digital photographs. They have no width and no weight.

Second, there's the reality that in real life, we use table tops as horizontal storage surfaces. Whether you're a neat freak who has only a magazine or a coaster rack on top, or you're more like me and live with your tables essentially camouflaged by life's detritus, either way you've essentially buried your workspace. In other words, this tool seems to forget the environment in which we look things up. The voiceover in the ad jokes about the convenience of a handheld machine in comparison to this table, but I'd like to suggest that this table would make more sense as a vertical hang-on-the-wall flat-screen TV. Take a lesson from the many-years-old television industry: there is no market for a horizontal television.

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