Google Googles Glitches


by Samuel Greengard

I'm confounded sometimes by the way society adopts and uses technology. There seems to be no correlation between problems and solutions, or how well a technology works and how widely it's used.

Let's look at two examples:

Technology #1: E-receipts: Does anyone really need a paper receipt these days? Especially a 10-inch long monument to a quart of milk and a box of breakfast cereal? According to AllEtronic, a company in the e-receipt space, paper receipts produce about 640,000 tons of paper annually in the U.S. alone. Most of this paper winds up in landfills and hardly anyone can find the paper receipt they need for a return anyway.

Only a handful of retailers offer paperless receipts in stores. Meanwhile, scanners exist for the sole purpose of turning paper receipts into digital receipts. Sometimes it feels like we're all bicycling backwards, though, apparently, some people are really good at this.

Technology #2: Image Recognition: It seems that everyone is gaga for Google Goggles. The smartphone application lets you snap a photo of a sign, menu, landmark, piece of art or bottle of wine and receive information about it. It can even translate text between languages. Yes, it's an extraordinarily cool concept and one that will not doubt have incredible application in the future. I emphasize the word "future" because it's entirely hit or miss at this point. For example, when I snapped a photo of a local auto dealer's logo, Goggles tells me that it's the University of Connecticut logo or a Haitian flag.

The upshot? Trying to understand how and why people use technology is probably more of a dive into sociology than anything else. Great technology fails and bad technology succeeds every day. People continue doing things the way they've always been doing them or they chase the wild blue yonder--even when it doesn't make sense.