“Sometimes technology is not the answer” said an actual AI Engineering Professor.


I'm serious.
Sometimes more technology is not the answer. I love technology, I want the intelligent Internet of Things and I love having a supercomputer in my pocket that can recognize my voice and carry out tasks automatically.

Sometimes though, we can make things worse by replacing old tech with new tech.

A case in point: I'm in a mall and I just want to find a particular shoe store. This was my situation the other day in the Eaton Centre in Toronto. I didn't know if the store had moved after mall renovations, so I tried to find the map for the mall. Should be simple right?

This resulted in a world where I could make the following true statements:
  1. The first map I found wasn't working.
  2. The second map I found was being used by someone else so I couldn't use it until he was done.
Do these sentences make sense to you? They shouldn't, because I'm talking about a map. A map shows you schematic representation of a space in order to ease navigation.

Most shopping malls these days have switched to electronic podium maps. They're dynamic. They're flashy. They respond to touch. They can show ads and show you a helpful walking path from the circle marked "You are here" to your stated destination. We truly live in the future, it gave me a little thrill the first time I used one, but have we ever asked why do we need them?

Most malls are not that complicated to navigate. When the discussion about upgrades comes up I wonder if anyone asks "Is this a problem that needed solving?" Clearly, the shopping mall will save some expense in the future replacing out of date printed mall maps. The question is, how does that future saving compare to thousands of customers experiencing the ridiculous sentences above?

Yes, you in the back, you have a question?
Have I ever heard of a smartphone? 
No, sorry, can you describe it?
Is that like a buggy-whip?

Another obvious response to this rant is to simply look up the internal mall map on Google maps to find the store. Sure. Yesterday, this option wasn't available to me because I'd forgotten my phone in my hotel and decided to enjoy a day without it.

Have you fainted? I'll wait


Again, I don't want to be the grumpy-anti-tech-tech-guy, but it wasn't long ago since we lived perfectly well without smart phones and continuous internet. Besides, the entire fact there are still many podium maps in every mall in Canada and there is always someone standing in front of them demonstrates that we aren't relying the ubiquitousness of smart phones for this just yet.



The real point I'm making is that a large paper map is superior to a dynamic one or smart phones in many ways. It is superior because it is simpler, it can be accessed in parallel by looking over someone's shoulder. It can be updated by the mall on their own schedule rather than begging Google, Apple and Baidu to update their mobile maps. It takes no computing power and of course, it cannot fail because of a software bug.

So why do it? Why?

To paraphrase Douglas Adams, humanity will never truly rise out into being a mature species until we stop thinking digital watches (or smart maps or digital/smart anything) are pretty neat, even if we don't need them. That is, until we can resist the urge for something cool and dynamic even if it makes the solution worse.