On the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series

Beware of the Leopard

By Mike Byrne

For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive–you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure, of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same program.

Anyone who doubts that we are on the road that Douglas Adams laid out in the above passage would do well to take a look at aftermarket car stereos which now frequently include remote controls. Once a remote control is necessary to operate a device which is itself within arm’s reach, the battle over whether we or our devices are in control has clearly turned sharply in favor of the devices. I once asked a car stereo salesman why one anyone would want a remote for something they could already reach, and this answer really got to the root of the problem: the remote was useful because the stereo itself had too many buttons which were too small to actually operate while driving.

“So you get the remote,” I conjectured, “because the design of the thing it controls is so bad that a separate, simpler set of controls is necessary?”

“Er, yes,” came the hesitant reply.

“So why not,” I patiently asked, “put the large and usable controls on the stereo  …

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