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Social studies

Are household appliances getting too complicated? Add to ...

What happened to on and off?

Are our household appliances getting too complicated, wonders Tom Meltzer of The Guardian. “The modern washing machine has a dozen or more cycles that no one has ever used. The ‘baby cycle,’ for example, aimed presumably at parents too lazy to wash their babies in the bath. Or, quoting now from a variety of machines, the ‘duvet,’ sports,’ ‘bed and bath,’ ‘reduced crease,’ ‘allergy’ and ‘freshen up’ cycles. … The washing machine is hardly alone in this; all our appliances have learned new tricks. Posh kettles heat our water to a variety of temperatures; tumble dryers offer a variety of ‘dryness levels’ and even fairly basic toasters now boast a ‘bagel function.’ At the top end of the market, you can now buy a fridge with a built-in radio and voice recorder.”

Gadget tête-a-têtes

“A car that tells your insurance company how you’re driving,” writes Peter Svensson of Associated Press. “A bathroom scale that lets you chart your weight on the Web. And a meter that warns your air conditioner when electricity gets more expensive. Welcome to the next phase of the wireless revolution. The first wave of wireless was all about getting people to talk to each other on cellphones. The second will be getting things to talk to each other, with no humans in between. So-called machine-to-machine communication is getting a lot of buzz at this year’s wireless trade show [in Barcelona]. Some experts believe these connections will outgrow the traditional phone business in less than a decade.”

Sat-nav for pedestrians

“A walking stick with built-in sat-nav has been developed by Japanese technology giant Fujitsu,” reports BBC News. “The Next Generation Cane is designed to help elderly people find their way, as well as monitor things such as heart rate and temperature. Its location can also be monitored online – and can be set up to send e-mail alerts if it thinks the user may have fallen over. … The prototype device, shown off at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, is equipped with various connection technologies such as GPS, 3G and WiFi – and has an LED display on top of the handle. If a change of direction is needed, the walking stick vibrates and an arrow appears. Although [the cane is] designed for the elderly, Fujitsu envisions it being used by any vulnerable person.”

The ultimate in multitasking?

“Texting’s popularity with the young is no surprise, but how deeply the medium has infiltrated their emotional involvement may raise eyebrows,” says Pacific Standard magazine. “After surveying 102 college students who sent an average of 71 texts per day, ‘with some sending as many as 300,’ researcher Marissa Harrison of Penn State Harrisburg reports that, increasingly, students are using this ‘fast and faceless mode of communication’ to discuss extremely personal subjects. … As Harrison writes in The Social Science Journal, ‘A good number of participants reported texting in seemingly inopportune situations, such as while in the shower, while at work, during religious services and while having sex.’”

Treating life as a game

“One of the newest methods for spurring self-improvement is to turn every task into a game,” says Popular Science. “So-called gamification apps keep score in real-life situations to promote certain behaviours – whether it’s taking out the trash, going for a run, or complimenting someone. … Yet the systems have problems. Users must be actively involved in the scoring process from start to finish – opt in, sometimes wear a device and even manually input data into a smartphone app. Those tasks interrupt – even intrude upon – everyday life, turning the entire experience into a pains taking chore. What’s more, an app doesn’t know when you’re lying.”

Thought du jour

“If I had read as much as other men, I should have known no more than they.”

Thomas Hobbes, English philosopher (1588-1679)

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