Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Race Without Arms

The restrooms at my office now have motion-sensing towel dispensers. I don't get it.

Yes, we live in the 21st century, and technology is advancing at a faster rate all the time. But maybe that's a problem too.

Our relationship with technology always seems to follow a certain pattern:

1. We acquire it.

2. We study it just long enough to figure out how we can use it.

3. We immediately market products that are stupid and self-serving.

We do not need laser beams to help us get paper towels. And anyway, if we have to use our hands to activate the laser, what's the point? It's a hands-free device for hands.

I don't even want to think about the ratio of useful-to-stupid technologies. For every surgeon who uses robotic arms to operate on a patient from across the country, we probably have twenty towel dispensers equipped with lasers. In time, one of two things will happen:

1. We will accidentally evolve beyond the need for arms, which will shrivel up and fall off. Then we won't be able to cover our coughing, dry our hands, or pull up our own pants, and the resulting germ parade will destroy our species and monkeys will inherit the earth.

2. Paper towel dispensers will become sentient, enslave humanity, and dry off the entire world.

It's either monkeys or towels.

Whether we're fighting for more time or fewer germs, our capacity to pervert new technology always seems to eclipse our respect for it, and we end up with lamps that can turn on and off because we clap our hands at them, or antibacterial soap so strong it could eat the bark from a tree. It's no wonder aliens are trying not to be noticed. They don't want to be caught gawking.

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