Infrastructure // PC & Servers
01:36 PM

What Ever Happened To On/Off Switches?

On this last day of 2008, among the many forecasts and prognostications for the next year, I'd like to take a moment to ponder a subtle change that already has occurred.

On this last day of 2008, among the many forecasts and prognostications for the next year, I'd like to take a moment to ponder a subtle change that already has occurred.We no longer turn most technology devices on or off. And I'm not so sure that I know why.

I know there are technical answers, and that they're probably pretty simple. But thinking as a consumer, it's a not-so-obvious development. Everything else in our lives starts and then stops, sometime, whether a service, a subscription, or a box of rice. Things are supposed to work when we want to use them, which usually requires an electronic device to be on, a closet or drawer unlocked, or a can of beans opened. We use keys, codes, and other tools to empower these differential moments between nonfunction and function.

But my TV is always on. So is my cable box and TiVo gizmo. I never turn off my computer (though it does sleep, whatever that means). My MP3 player shuts off on its own, or so I believe. I know that my wireless modem is always flashing its way across the Internet. Actually, pretty much every electronic device I own has a little red light on the front panel that is always lit.

Like I said, I know there's a reason for this, and I bet it has something to do with the devices staying at the ready for my touch. Actually, TiVo is working for me when I'm not looking. Maybe today's technology devices are more like the other utilities that power my home. It's no revelation that my furnace and water heater run all the time. I'd be disappointed if they didn't.

It's not the complete story, though. People associate on/off with doing, and it's generally a good thing. So couldn't technology brands find ways to incorporate this behavioral fact into the design and experience of products? Shouldn't they?

In our era of concerns over global warming -- and consumer desire to exert even symbolic control over the minuscule decisions in their lives -- you'd think the smart technology brands would figure out how to encourage people to turn some things off. Or at least do a better job of telling them why they shouldn't.

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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