Are we using technology for technology’s sake?

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New inventions and technologies have certainly made their mark throughout time but Tanya Weaver ponders whether we really need some of the recent gizmos and gadgets being offered up

Unbelievably a friend has just made her first foray into smartphones. I say unbelievably because doesn’t everyone own a smartphone these days? Her argument was “why? I only need a phone for calling and texting”.

Her decision to take the plunge may have been prompted during a recent pub visit when she produced her previous ‘fossil’ and we all laughed as she proceeded to type a message using that archaic multi-tap method.

I’ve been monitoring her behaviour over the past few weeks and her Facebook activity has increased by 80%, she responds to emails whilst ‘on the move’, has set up an Instagram account with murmurings of a Twitter one next.

She has installed all manner of apps from Skyscanner and Mapmyrun to Goodreads and Candy Crush. She, like the vast majority of us, has become attached to her phone so much so that during a recent 30 minute run she had it tucked into her bra while her armband case was on order.

It is true that our smartphones have become an extended part of ourselves, almost like an extra limb. This handheld, portable powerhouse that, according to Paul Otellini, president chief executive of Intel, has more computing than existed in all of Nasa in 1969 when the moon landings took place.

Isn’t that a crazy thought? It also made me think that we often don’t know what we’ve been missing out on until we have it. Remember that oft-quoted phrase from Henry Ford, the man who in 1908 brought us the first inexpensive automobile — the Model T, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

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If he hadn’t instigated the mass manufacture of affordable cars, someone else would have as we wouldn’t still be riding around in horse drawn carriages, even if the horses were faster.

There are all manner of inventions that have changed our lives. One that stands out, particularly as it was invented by a woman, is the dishwasher. Jospehine Cochrane of Ashtabula County, Ohio, was a rich lady who didn’t actually do the dishes herself, she had servants for that, but having hosted frequent dinner parties she wanted the dishes washed quicker without any chips.

She frustratingly proclaimed,”If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I’ll do it myself!” And so she did. The Cochrane Dishwasher was shown at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and won the prize for “best mechanical construction, durability and adaptation to its line of work”. She started the Garis-Cochran Manufacturing Company, which became KitchenAid and later Whirlpool.

Of course a major invention in the early 20th Century that has had a huge impact, not only on how it altered the dynamic of the home but how it has forged the way for other associated technologies, was the television. What did families do with their evenings before — read, listen to the radio, talk?

Then of course there are some inventions and technologies that have been and gone like the typewriter, VHS, Betamax, CRT monitor, analog telephone, cassette, floppy disc and the CD player (a few households probably still have this last one but it’s destined for the product graveyard).

These inventions heralded new technologies that did indeed make a difference to our lives but I can’t help thinking that some of today’s inventions — all these gadgets and gizmos — are just merely an act in using technology for technology’s sake.

One place where you’ll find all these, quite frankly ridiculous gadgets, under one roof is at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which takes place annually in Las Vegas during January. Remember the Hapifork from last year’s show — a ‘smart fork’ that promised to help users lose weight by vibrating when they were eating too quickly and too much. Um… shouldn’t the fact that you’re feeling full be trigger enough?

This ridiculousness has been supplanted by this year’s ‘smart toothbrush’. Kolibree’s Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush encourages better habits by analysing your brushing action and then displaying your progress on a smartphone app. The aim is to get an A grade every time.

Then a rather creepy device is the reinvention of a mother in gadget form. This small, doll-like matriarch is connected to a number of sensors throughout the home, which detects things like temperature and motion.

This information is transmitted to the gadget Mother who reports to the human Mother via a smartphone app. According to its manufacturer Sen.se, the aim is to bring the Internet of Things into everyday life, helping users track their eating, fitness and hygiene habits and even home security.

But the big gadget news at this year’s CES were fitness trackers. All shapes, sizes and variations to add to the pile of health gadgets already saturating the market.

LG unveiled the Lifeband Touch wristband, nothing new there but its accompanying Heart Rate earphones will measure your heart rate via your inner ear.

Garmin’s new Vivofit watch boasts to have the longest life of any fitness tracker lasting for a year on a single charge. Good news for exercise junkies who can now sweat it out for a full 365 days non-stop.

Gaming specialist Razer is even getting in on the fitness gadget action through the launch of the Razer Nabu wristband whilst Spree has done something rather radical and launched a smart headband with the added bonus of keeping sweat out of your eyes.

I’m a runner and have to admit to never owning a fitness gadget. The closest I’ve come is a Casio watch with stopwatch and timer function. Most times I just want to get out the door gadget free (yes, that means my smartphone too) and run for the sake of running because I love it.

But like my friend, now smartphone convert, perhaps I don’t know what I’m missing out on. I may yet buy a fitness gadget and never look back as I track every heart beat, step I take and calorie I burn.

Think I’ll wait a bit longer though.

Tanya Weaver ponders whether some of today’s technology is really necessary
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