Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Technology Wednesday: Trains and Planes and Automobiles

Maybe it's having spent about three days aboard a train recently, but I have been thinking a lot about trains and especially about older and newer forms of technology. Passenger trains have been around for about 200 years, and passenger airplanes for, let's say, about 90 or so.

While aboard the train, I heard a number of riders talking about trains as a superior means of transportation. The atmosphere is more relaxed, you can walk around, you can look at the scenery, etc. Of course, if you don't want to take two days to get to the West Coast from Chicago, you can take a plane. I thought of these people as being like those who favor paper books over e-readers, and really, there are advantages to both forms, just as there are advantages to trains and to airplanes.

When home computers were first introduced, people tried to use them to store recipes, which could then be brought up on the computer to fix a dish. The idea didn't catch on for obvious reasons. I wouldn't want Hollandaise sauce all over my Toshiba laptop, like many other people. So, computers: good for word processing; not better than the recipe box for storing recipes.

We experienced a similar advantage to older technology this past month. We flew down to Durham N.C. to visit some friends. Door to door, it took five and a half hours. About ten days later, tragically, the lady died, and we needed to return so Becky could play for her funeral. I calculated that it would be faster to drive, as it is with distances of less than  300 miles or so. It took us four hours and twenty minutes to do so. Advantage: driving.

So, it's not the newness or sophistication of the technology that counts: it's the suitability of the technology for the task at hand. And that is a matter for human judgment.

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