Tech. You really can have enough of it.
I spent this weekend ambling around the (surprisingly large) streets of Vienna. My girlfriend had just come out of the tail-end of the Sibos conference so she extended her stay and I flew out on Friday. Oh, the jet-set lifestyle of an international blogger…
As I’ve noted before, I often spot things coming in little clusters that I mentally register as blogworthy, and I noticed this in Vienna. Tech seems to be a fairly new toy there, which surprised me. In fact, a lot about Vienna surprised me. It’s a strange place, not quite Western European in its attitudes but not quite Eastern either.
So, not only was I unable to get my cultural bearings, I tended to get lost physically too. I have a truly dreadful sense of direction and so my Google Maps download was a revelation. It actually worked! In no time at all I was in Stefansplatz, eagerly showing off the fact you can see my old Mini’s rooftop on the map showing my flat in London. My girlfriend was impressed.*
So, good tech there. Now for the bad. Over the course of three days I witnessed the following:
- Digital video cameras at a classical music concert. I’m not a particular classical music buff, but I was looking forward to it – right up till the moment they started playing. At that precise moment my attention was distracted from Eine Kleine Nachtmusic to Eine Kleine LCD screen a few rows ahead of me, complete with little Zwei Kleinen Flashing LED lights either side. A few people shook their heads disapprovingly, but it continued. Then another one appeared. And another. Perhaps Mozart had similar difficulty with candles, but I doubt it somehow. And it wasn’t just that the cameras were stationary. Occasionally people would shift to get a better view, or zoom in (you could see it on their viewfinders), or even lift the cameras in the air. Did they actually hear any of the music? It certainly didn’t help me, or anyone else there. Bad tech – or, to be more exact, bad use of it. Bleugh.
- Automated check-in. Austrian Airlines laughably called it ‘Quick Check-in’ and you had to use it (you couldn’t just walk up to the desk and talk to people in the traditional fashion – I asked). None of the screen prompts matched any of the terminology on any of the many different forms of documentation people had printed out from various online booking systems. Staff were enrolled to help them key in their details, often several times over when mistakes were inevitably made. Machines kept breaking, to the extent that they had to be opened, like huge server disk bays, and crumpled boarding tickets picked out from within. Everyone was frustrated. Tempers frayed. I asked the very patient young man who helped me how this could be ‘quick’, and explained that I’m fairly used to handling computer systems generally and yet this one baffled me. “Yeah, I know, it’s always like this, but I don’t make the decisions,” he explained. The only advantage was that passport checks were a breeze, simply because everyone else was still trying to get their boarding cards at the machines. Meh.
- Taxi drivers watching telly. As I got into the taxi to Vienna Airport, the driver placed a laptop on his dashboard. “Must be some sort of mega-Tomtom,” I thought to myself. No. He’d rigged up a mobile Freeview receiver, and proceeded to multi-task between watching the road, and watching some weird Austrian “How Do They Do That” programme which kept flaking out when we went through tunnels. That is, he was watching TV while driving. At one point he even started texting on his mobile as well. Not so much bleugh or meh, as waaaah, we’re all going to die…
I’m generally a tech fan and I’m a believer that it can help us all in so many ways. I thought Google Maps was magic, or virtually indistinguishable from magic, as the old adage goes.
But it can’t help everyone all the time. Not at classical music concerts where you should be listening to music; at airports where you should be able to get a boarding pass without the hassle of badly designed and malfunctioning equipment; and certainly not as alternative entertainment while driving a taxi, when the safety of your passengers and the events on the road take secondary consideration to a cute Austrian girl explaining how the inner-ear’s balancing system works.