Tom MacWright

tom@macwright.org

Tom MacWright

Glow

Technology didn’t have to glow.

The iPod Shuffle was a music player with no display. Mostly you’d use it for its namesake: shuffling a library. It contained a set amount of music, stored on a memory chip. It didn’t connect to the internet: you plugged it into a computer using a headphone-to-USB cable.

Watch

There were also GPS watches that didn’t glow, and that didn’t require your attention. They used LCD screens, and though some had backlights, the only reason you’d use the light is if you were running at night. They also connected to computers with USB cables.

There was an entire display technology based on not glowing - e-ink - and book-like devices that used it. Some of those had backlights, too, but you’d only use them at night. They didn’t do anything other than read books. Or, well, they had other functions but they were so frustrating and slow at anything besides showing books, that you’d use them to read books.


There were devices that simply did what they were for, without demanding attention. For their makers, they had some real problems. They had moving parts, which meant that they required more factory tooling and had more warranty returns. They were terrible for displaying advertisements. Without always-on internet connections, they were really bad for buying other things with.

These were problems for the makers, not the users. But both manufacturer and consumer recognized the addictive properties of the glow, and everything became flat, glowing, and covered with sturdy glass. Even a car, the Model 3, put everything on a single glass display.

Non-glowing devices became an expensive niche. The iPod Shuffle was discontinued with no replacement. Running watches merged with smart watches and started buzzing for phone calls and messages. Everything became less physical, leaving human capabilities unused and leaving us all staring at light bulbs.

Written on a glowing screen at night.

August 28, 2018  @tmcw