6/08/2005

Supersize it. Downsize it.

What we call Progress is nothing more than miniaturization and maximization. Consider that by the 1950's, we invented everything we'd ever need: washers, dryers, motorized kitchen appliances, television, refrigeration, the Hoola-Hoop. Technology automated our lives in the 1950s and we used the free time automation afforded us to start inventing useless crap. Since then, we've conceived a steady stream of pet rocks, trapper keepers, GPS devices...

We've invented so many things that we're running out of things to invent. Instead, we invent ways of making things bigger or smaller. The computer is a great example. They used to take up an entire building. Now we pack the computing power of 100,000 UNIVACs into a Palm Pilot which, as the name implies, fits in the palm of your hand. Of course it doesn't make you a pilot yet. I don't care how many gigs of RAM they pack into a Palm Pilot. It's always going to be an electronic rolodex at best -- a collection of phone numbers and email addresses we spend 5 hours programming into the thing and then never use. I have a Palm Pilot. I remember thinking that I was never going to be disorganized again. I'd have every bit of information I'd ever need just when I needed it. I'd be a completely evolved human being. Instead I've got 94 scraps of paper with phone numbers, frequent flyer miles and salsa recipes busting the seams of my wallet that I one day plan to program into the Palm.

On the other hand, we have to keep making other things bigger and bigger. Cars have grown into SUVs. Happy Meals are now "super-sized." Star Jones is the new Oprah.

Recently we've seen the confluence of these two endeavors in the form of the plasma screen television. Once we strove to make TVs bigger and bigger. But while a bigger picture is always better, nobody wants a Delta Burke-sized box in their living room. So we've kept the big picture, but miniaturized the box from front to back. Now you can hang a 55-inch image "Foodie Call" on your wall, because it's only 4 inches thick. The plasma screen is a great metaphor for today's programming: pretty pictures -- no depth.

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