Look For The Off Switch - InformationWeek

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IoT
IoT
Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
12/19/2009
08:51 AM
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Look For The Off Switch

After watching the news about climate change from Copenhagen last night, I turned off the lights and realized that all those glowing little red dots on our entertainment system meant we were doing our part to help destroy the planet.

After watching the news about climate change from Copenhagen last night, I turned off the lights and realized that all those glowing little red dots on our entertainment system meant we were doing our part to help destroy the planet.I'd seen them before, of course, but it got me thinking about how we leave technology devices on, presuming they even give us the option to turn them off.

It wasn't always this way. Our old vacuum tube black & white TVs didn't pass into ready or sleep mode when you flipped the switch. It clicked and the gizmo was dead. The rotary dial kitchen phone was as inert as a brick when it wasn't in use, and forget about finding it in the dark. Ditto for the electric typewriter, blender, and even those newfangled desktop calculators.

The only devices that consistently stayed on were those that we used consistently, or at least needed to keep running in order to function properly. Clocks can't turn off and on and still keep time. Fridges can't chill just when the doors are open. Home heating and cooling systems need to stay attuned to the temperature in order to heat and cool (though they can be kept on-call via a thermostat's sensitive spring).

So when did this change and, more confounding to me, why?

Our DVD player, home theater receiver, DVR device and TV all stay lit 24/7. The backup drive for my work computer always flickers. Many of the devices we'll be buying this holiday season won't have obvious off switches whatsoever; worse, try to get a straight answer from an in-store expert about whether you should turn off your computer or mobile phone. Just as our machines are being designed to stay on, we're being told that we shouldn't care.

I think we should start looking for off switches again. Granted the impact of that glowing speck on the DVD player doesn't even amount to a rounding error on your monthly electric bill, but add up many millions of those dots and it counts for something, doesn't it?

More importantly, our emergent routine of leaving technology devices running lulls us into a complacency about what they do...and what we expect of ourselves. I know I'll get comments deriding me as a Luddite (even though you couldn't wrest my electric toothbrush from my clenched dead hand), but I say that leaving everything running is bad for us and the planet. Let technology do more and do it more often, but just starting things running and then forgetting about them seems somewhat irresponsible and foolish. Even if you don't care about global climate change, isn't that how Skynet gets away with destroying the planet?

I say give it a thought as you contemplate stuff to buy. Look at the list of all the wonderful things the new somethingoranother will do once you plug it in or load up the batteries, and think about who's in charge and how even the smallest gesture can have a collectively big impact.

And then look for the off switch.

Jonathan Salem Baskin is a global brand strategist, writes the Dim Bulb blog, and is the author of Bright Lights & Dim Bulbs.

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