Confessions of a Neoluddite Curmudgeon
In the late 1990s, Amiga Inc., by then a subsidiary of Gateway, was researching and investing into a concept called the internet of things. Amiga Inc. wanted their OS to run on internet connected phones, tablets, refrigerators, ovens, thermostats, and other everyday appliances, devices, and tools. The internet of things was such a revolutionary idea that existing Commodore Amiga users as a whole rejected it. They wondered why anyone in their right mind would run an operating system on a toaster.1 Gateway was so thrilled with the internet of things concept, that they sold their Amiga intellectual property to people who had no intention of advancing the the idea. Now, just about every thing you could think of is running an internet connected operating system (OS). That which once seemed like a laughable concept is now standard. Yet, I believe the question asked years ago by Amiga users still applies. Why would anyone want to run an OS on a simple appliance?
The Purpose of an Operating System
Adding an OS to a simple appliance makes it complex. The purpose of an OS is to ease the usage of a complex device; however, an OS itself has a level of complexity. If that level is higher than the complexity of the device upon which the OS runs, the OS makes that device harder to use. I noticed this tendency the first time I saw an acquaintance using a smart phone to make a call. After the call, he asked me why I did not have a smart phone. I responded that they were harder to use than a basic phone. After giving me a bewildered look, he said, “No, they’re easier to use.”
He proceeded to show me just how easy it was to place a call. He swiped his finger up the screen to awaken his phone. He flipped through multiple displays to find the phone app. He selected the phone app. He began flipping through his contacts. He then flipped through the options for calling or texting the contact he selected. He then smiled at me saying, “You see! It’s much easier than a regular phone.”
I picked up my phone. I dialed a number. It was easy because the operation of a basic phone is simple. I did not have to flip through multiple screens to select an app or contact. Adding an OS to a phone increases its complexity, reducing its ease of use.2 The same could be said for refrigerators, thermostats, and a whole range of other simple appliances, which manufacturers are bundling with an OS to make them smart.
An OS may make a mundane device fun to use. In a sense, using an OS on a simple device is like playing a game to get it to do what it would otherwise have done without the OS. The fun factor is most likely what attracts people to buy smart devices and appliances. However, fun is not a synonym for easy. Fun is also very subjective. I find most smart devices frustrating.3
I’ve Become my Dad
When my dad was still alive, he had the habit of disabling or removing every safety feature on cars, lawn mowers, power tools, and other things we might consider dangerous. He strongly believed that if someone knew properly how to use a tool, that person would not need safety features. Dad explained, “Those safety features are for idiots who can’t find their [butts] with both hands!”
Although I do not consider smart appliance users to be idiots, I do find the concept idiotic. The internet of things has merely wasted our time by making us look at dinky screens to be entertained by our appliances and devices. A person who knows properly how to use a simple appliance does not need an OS, apps, or internet connectivity in order to use it.