We live in a shrinking world, all the gadgets that control our lives keep getting slimmer and virtually weightless. Is that such a good thing?
There’s a perfectly understandable human obsession to be thin, or thinner, which is way sexier than being fat or pudgy. It works better for women than men but thin is in, and has been for a while, regardless of the downside, which is to do with weight-loss programmes, from eating disorders to immunity protection. Turns out the weight loss issue is more to do with the gadgets that control our lives. The question is whether that comes with downsides as well? Look around you: your TV has shrunk, so it’s now a speck on the wall. Your PC is now a super-slim monitor that is difficult to see if viewed sideways. Printers took up an entire desk before, now we have portable Wi-Fi-enabled models that fit into a corner of your suitcase. There are digital projectors you could slip into your pocket. Speakers these days are the size of a golf ball. We can buy keyboards that fold up into something that looks like a handkerchief. The bottomline? The saving in terms of space has been a huge boon. Technology just gets better and better, making everything we own smaller and slimmer. The only consumer product that’s grown in size has been our cars, which is, again, just so they can accommodate all that technology.
Nothing illustrates the downsizing more than the gadgets that we carry around with us and use the most: our cellphones, tablets, e-readers and laptops. Apple has just launched its iPad Air 2 in India, and just the branding ‘Air’ suggests weightlessness. The full-page advertisement for the product emphasises the “thinner, lighter” theme. In terms of specifications, the iPad Air 2 is an astonishing 18% thinner than its predecessor and measures just 6.1 mm, a little more than Gionee’s ultra-thin Elife S 5.5, the thinnest phone in the world. It weighs 15 ounces. Apple launched its iPhone 6 in much the same way, marketing it as being lighter and thinner than the earlier model. In a piece in The Daily Dot, Mark Singleton wrote: “It’s possible Apple won’t be satisfied until their devices are purely two dimensional and blow away in a light breeze. Making products thinner and lighter can only take you so far.” Laptops have given way to ultrabooks, super-slim, ultra-light laptops. E-readers are now so slim and sleek, you only need one hand to read a book. Here’s my grouse: I love my gadgets as much as the next nerd, and if thin is in, so be it, but in the rush to make everything leaner and meaner, they all forget the one thing that keeps it all going—the battery. Lack of battery life impacts all the gadgets we use, and despite all the marketing hype, none of the hottest gadgets on the market has shown a marked improvement in battery life. There’s another problem. The latest iPhone 6 may be technologically a super-gadget, but Apple made it so slim that they were faced with ‘bendgate’, an issue that made headlines. When the gadget was first released, many customers complained that their phone was bending after being in someone’s backpocket—social media was abuzz with photos of bent phones and Apple took a PR hit before things quietened down.
Yet, it does strike at the heart of the problem. Technology is allowing producers to make gadgets smaller and smaller, but so slim that they are frighteningly fragile. Carrying around a gadget that weighs next to nothing means it is so much more likely to slip from your hand and cause an expensive accident, considering the price of premium phones and tablets these days. Sure, it works for business travellers. Executives may want the biggest seat on the plane, but the smaller the gadget, the better for obvious reasons. Here’s the thing. As our gadgets get slimmer, we need more of them. Most people these days carry around external battery packs to charge their phones, tablets and notebooks. The ones that charge three gadgets at a time can be bulky. There are phone cases that provide additional media storage for those who have a feature-rich boardroom presentation to make, with photos, videos, charts and files. There are laptop bags that use solar power to charge your device while on the move. Some executives will add external camera lenses for their smartphones, or the extendable rod for selfies. Basically, the slimmer our devices, the greater the need for accessories and wireless devices, including portable Bluetooth speakers or headphones to listen to our music. It’s not just the accouterments of business travel, but the ones we use in our daily lives that are an issue with some of us. Carrying around a gadget that weighs nothing and feels unsubstantial may look cool, but it doesn’t sit well with what they cost and the constant fear that they could slip and crash on the floor. Sleek gadgets are fine, but at least they should feel solid and safe rather than airy and weightless. I am certainly not comfortable with the idea of sitting in a public space reading War and Peace using just one hand. I predict a tipping point, quite literally, when gadgets get so slim that customers actually start to vanish, pun intended.
The writer is Group Editor, Special Projects & Features, The Indian Express