Sunday, March 25, 2012

Technologies Overengineered, Ruined, or Abandoned: An Occasional Series

Location: Staring at the Shaving Mug

I'm getting ready to shave again. Some time ago, I switched from an expensive and over-engineered Sensor razor to my grandfather's 1920s Gem Micromatic razor.  I wrote about my reasons here and I still love it. With only one small nick in two months of fun, shaving has again become a manly and pleasant ritual, not a forgotten act as I prepare to do other things or--shudder--try the rapid task-shifting that some mislabel "multitasking."

Given the lack of news about virtual worlds, other than that reported well by other bloggers, and my lack of teaching there, I'm going to diversify the blog again.

I'm looking at an idea that James Howard Kunstler has popularized for a while, one that preceded my meeting Jim and getting caught up in his ideas. Jim is about to publish a new nonfiction book about the diminishing returns of technology. The idea of technologies done well and then forgotten has long captivated me, though I suspect that my Neo-Luddism has taken a different and more tech-friendly turn than Jim would make.  Both of us agree that "new" does not always mean "improved."

I plan to cover, in the next few weeks, several technologies that have been, in my opinion, perfected but then "improved" further or worse still, abandoned.  Here are some candidates:
  • Apple's iMovie software
  • The Saturn I and V rockets (you know I can't resist space stuff)
  • Light local rail networks of the 20s-60s
  • The fast-food restaurants of the 1950s and 60s
  • The Leathermantm Pocket Tool
  • The returnable-bottle soft drink
  • DeWalt and Porter Cable power tools, after Black & Decker acquired them
  • The Volkswagen Jetta TDI, Honda Civic, and Mazda 3 series.
I have personal experience with all but the Saturn rockets (pity!), Honda, and Mazda (near pity!).

My series will be opinionated (go figure) and open to critique and amendments. 

Got some other candidates for tech done well, then messed up or left to rust?

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