You Just Crossed the Line

Business leaders need to repeat the following statement 10 times each morning:

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should

10 times a day, every single day until it is burned into their psyche like a cattle brand.image

Let me get one thing straight from the start, I’m a tech-guy. I love technology. I work with technology. I play with technology. I took my first computer programming course when I was 13 (which wasn’t easy) and I’ve been programming things ever since. I’ve programmed computers of all sizes and shapes: mainframe, mini (remember those), PCs, calculators, Bar Code readers and a security system. I couldn’t imagine a bit of technology that I would resist…until lately. image

Earlier this week, in Barcelona, Spain, Samsung unveiled the S5 smartphone, complete with heart rate sensor. OK, there is a line between useful and useless. This device might straddle that line; it might lean ever-so-slightly to the ‘useful’ side, but not for me. I realize that there are lots of people who might want / need to keep track of their heart rate. Even if this is useful for those people, I still think it would be better to attach something to your smart phone rather than building it in. More on that in a minute.

Let me offer a second example to help focus your attention on where that line is. The line beyond which there might be value in the research but the companies are going to lose money, lies somewhere between the heart rate phone and the Bluetooth toothbrush – “Somewhere in between” but way closer to the phone than the toothbrush.

Way closer.

I’m imagining a scene inside Procter & Gamble that resulted in this device:

CEO – “We have to offer something to get into this Internet of Things thing.”

Designer – “Sir, we make cleaning supplies, health and grooming aids and feminine care products. I’m not sure how to connect things like diapers, paper towels, soap, toilet paper and tampons to the Internet. I mean, it all seems kind of icky.”

CEO – “Nonsense. There must be some way we can cash in on this. Don’t we make anything that isn’t consumed, wadded-up or thrown away after it’s used?

Designer – “Well, we make toothbrushes.”

CEO – “Now you’re talking! Make it so.”

(Sorry, I picture every CEO trying to sound like Captain Picard).

Why on earth would I want my toothbrush to tell me that I wasn’t focusing enough time on my lower right molars?

One of the really cool things about growing up was that I reached a point where people stopped telling me to brush my teeth. People stopped checking the towel to see if it was wet after I washed my hands. People stopped asking me if I was wearing clean underwear, whether I put on deodorant and whether or not I flossed. The Internet of things isn’t supposed to channel the spirit of those people.

Even if I was so scatterbrained that I wanted help brushing my teeth, why in the name of all that is holy would I want my toothbrush to call my dentist and rat me out? Excuse me P&G; I will lie to my dentist if I want to!image

In addition to things we don’t need, there are things we simply shouldn’t have. One big category of things we shouldn’t have is things that annoy other people. We shouldn’t have the ability to make a phone call from an airplane. Think about the way we all talk on cell phones and then think about sitting in a plane while 10 or 20 people are talking. Another thing that we shouldn’t have is Google Glass.

I have friends who think Google Glass is a good thing, but I do not agree. I’m told that Google Glass is really no different than a smart phone but, again, I disagree. If you and I are talking, I am not very likely to pick up my iPhone, snap your picture, search for your profile and read it while you continue to talk. If I did do those things, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were offended. I might expect you to push back a little.

People who are looking forward to Google Glass should prepare for some pushback.

Serious pushback.

Non-metaphorical pushback.

Insulted, beaten and robbed, pushback.

This device isn’t even available yet and this has happened. Are you sure you want to wear those?

Earlier, I promised more about the heart rate monitoring phone. The reason I don’t think it’s a good idea is the same reason I don’t want a 21-piece cordless tool kit complete with drill, driver, reciprocating saw, flashlight and ice crusher. Because, when the battery dies and replacements can no longer be purchased, all those tools are dead. If I have to buy a heart rate monitor, I don’t want to have to replace it every time I by a new phone. Besides, my smart toilet can check my vital signs and I’m getting close to the age where I will use that more often than my phone.

20 thoughts on “You Just Crossed the Line

Add yours

  1. Pictures – That’s a sample of the things that I’ve programmed. Actually, that calculator wasn’t programmable but its successor was and I owned it too. The book is not my first programming book, but it’s one of the oldest ones I have. It dates back to 1976 and was a text book of mine when I was at the University of Pittsburgh. The Venn diagram (yes, I realize the quality of my illustrations isn’t improving) is meant to illustrate the fact that so much of the stuff that’s available today isn’t really necessary.


  2. How are you, Dan. I think your blog looks great. The pictures are fine to me. They make the number of paragraphs appear less and therefore create an illusion that they are easier and faster to read. Not that without them it will be hard to read your writing. No. They just create that effect. Which is an advantage.
    Anyway, concerning your subject, beginning with the first quote, “Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should”, truly I have wished that this advice was heeded, not just by business people, but by everybody. It has struck me several times before that we, as humanity, have reached the point when we do not know what NOT to do. I have wondered at this. Once there is a novel idea, it must be executed, no matter the consequences. In our extremely desperate attempts to make more money, we have no restrains, we have given up all cares to the wind, as the saying goes. If your advice was heeded, we’d not be living with the threat of nuclear annihilation, some varieties of cancer, GMOs, bees extinction, etc. I have read about a project by the US government called HAARP; and then there were those horrifying mind-control experiments by the CIA decades ago;plus other forms of insanity that manifest every now and then everywhere—all these things could have been avoided; they have undertones of supreme evil. But no: why should we NOT do it when we CAN?
    But this Samsung S5 phone which has a heart-rate monitor, it must be intended for the elderly. I mean, a young man like me, why would I need my heart rate examined every now and again. And I thought companies target the youth these days! It will have its customers, anyway. As time flies, you realize only a handful of people can contemplate issues as deeply as you have done here and voice their thoughts. The rest are consumed by consumerism and perverse, unquestioned love for anything that they are told is good. Until the consequences are irreversibly ugly, almost nobody stops to reflect upon it.
    Great post, man! Keep up! Lovely weekend!


    1. Thanks Peter. I need to look further into the S5 phone. I read that there are already over 100 apps that use the monitor. Maybe healthy young guys like you that want to make it part of their exercise program. I don’t know. that’s why I backed away a bit from labeling it ‘useless’ – there must be something I’m missing. the toothbrush though, no way. Thanks again for the comment.


  3. Early morning I read the article about the Google glasses in The Chronicle. Such events are only the beginning. I appreciate all the great things technology allow me to do, but there are ethic boundaries that need to be clearly drawn. We don’t design and sell the crazy things you describe in your post, but we can say no. As customers we have the power and the obligation to call for awareness and to boycott products that we find dangerous and stupid.
    Thank you for another thought-provoking post.


  4. Hi Dan, I really found this one funny and kudos to you for that. I write lot of technology stuff all the time about CES, MWC, NAIAS and so many events where I see some really stupid concepts that don’t make sense at all. I certainly think innovators need to draw a line on where they should stop. At some point I did thought about writing a post like this one, but I then thought let me not write it because people usually call me pessimistic the moment I begin to pick faults.


    1. Thanks. Going to tech events, you must see some amazing new stuff and you must see a bunch of stuff that makes you shake your head. I am not pessimistic at all, but sometimes you just have to stop. It’s not just the tech sector, kitchen appliances, wood working, lawn care; almost every industry has people making things we just don’t need. thanks again for reading/commenting.


  5. Hi Dan! Happy Sunday! I”m not even awake yet and I read your post. You don’t realize what a compliment that is. I can write at the crack of dawn, but other than a few emails I am not always ready to read brother. :) But let me say I really like the way you wrote this story, the breaks, the paragraphs, the photos. Very nice. I am such a tech dummy when it comes to using all the available tools in wordpress. I usually end up doing photos most often but with my story, I know I should find more ways to break it up. That is why I try to post only parts of it. This was so humorous and I SO agree. And hey, I don’t even want my car talking to me. My husband has a Garmon GPS and he knows to mute the voice when I am along for the ride. I can read a screen and drive. After he makes his second u-turn to avoid making a left against traffic and she says, “Route recalculation” I’m ready to send her flying out the window. Talking toothbrush? Google docier capabilities? Get me OUTA here. Costa Rica has to be at least 100 years behind us technologically…..😉


    1. Thanks for reading (and reading so early) and thanks for the kind remarks. My wife wants no part of technology that talks to her. I do have a GPS. Even when my wife hears her in the background when I’m driving and talking to her on the phone, I get a snarky “Hi Gretta” (yeah, I named her). I like the formatting, but so many people seem to follow this in the Reader, and, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t always reveal all the formatting, especially on mobile devices. Oh well, I’m happy if people like what they read. Thanks again!


      1. Well, even though I get my weekly updates which I suppose is in the reader format, I always open up the post completely and then can see it in its entirety. And well, these eyes could hever read a blog pist on my iPhone. Ha.


  6. Oh my goodness! SO much yes! I say this all the time! “Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should!”
    I’m in total agreement with you, which is why I want my fridge to be a fridge, and not a fridge/ice& water dispenser/television/recipe box/family locator/talking entity! I definitely don’t want a toothbrush that calls my dentist! Oh I cannot imagine! Does the dentist want that, either? Eek!
    I don’t know if you were reading me when I posted my blog about knobs, but I think you might enjoy it.

    Keep it simple, Stupid would be just fine by me!


    1. Thanks! We have to buy a new fridge very soon, and I am not looking forward to it. I still think an ice maker is pretty high tech, and it’s about all the advancement I want. I definitely don’t want my fridge telling me that I’m out of ketchup. Popping over to read about knobs in a bit.


  7. I enjoyed reading this post. You are an excellent writer, Dan. I often feel that we are bombarded with too many “absurd” technology. I definitely don’t want to sit with a group of loud cell phone users on an airplane.


  8. Technology has its uses, misuses, and overuses. Thanks for pointing out where we should draw the line. I’m not a fan of google glass because I find it intrusive, but I’m looking forward to iWatch. The husband has a geeky watch that connects to his phone so he can look at messages, weather reports while biking, without having to scramble for his phone. Most times he doesn’t respond– but once it was an emergency message from my family, which made me really glad one of us could be reached.


    1. I could see how that would be useful. I bike and while I take my phone, I only look at it during stops. I do also realize that something are basically research. But you’re right, I can’t see how google glass won’t be intrusive outside of some very specific situations. Thanks for reading.


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