May the Best Technology . . . Lose

<![CDATA[Convenience and marketing over good technology is an historic story, on which perhaps I should do some research.

Here are some very recent examples, confined, for the moment, to consumer computer technology:

  • VHS over Beta (Betamax tapes were more compact, taking up less storage space)
  • USB over Firewire (how can everyone go for a connector where you can’t tell which way to insert it into the port?)
  • the entire recorded music thing: CDs over LPs (yes, records sound better, period), little stereo speakers over big ones (ditto), MP3 over AIFF (worse than CDs)
  • the entire visual image and video thing: digital over film photos and movies (they still look tacky, even at 5 megapixels or High Definition), digital over cable/antenna (I’d rather have fuzz than pixelation or “no signal”), flat screen and LCD over CRT (going green would have been better spent figuring out how to get a film-like image)

And we all know the best software Microsoft ever produced was Word 5.1a, and the best printer was Apple’s Personal Laserwriter 300.

It took me years to figure out that the newest version of something was not only not always better, but that it could have lost wonderful features previous versions had. As I struggle to get iMovie 8 to retain its chapter markings going into iDVD (so stupidly difficult), and create macros to get Word to do things I could do with one click in ProDOS in 1988, I am reminded that there must be so many areas where the good technology died out, and the bad one took over. Just like with birth control. Anyone who cooks knows that gas stoves are better than electric. Old sewing machines break fewer needles, old Maytag dryers need fewer repairs, old cars can be fixed in the driveway. I know not all old technologies were better, as the American Film Institute and others can tell you as they spend millions trying to restore silver nitrate film. But still.

Perhaps this is an entire research field: discovering the old technologies which worked better but were discarded. I’ll have to consider that, while I refuse to buy a new iMac because the screen is glossy instead of matte….