My mum's staying with me this week, enjoying the sights and sounds of London town, and last night conversation turned to a staple of mother-son exchanges: gadgets and why she can't understand them. This was prompted by a superb column in the Guardian by professional misanthrope Charlie Brooker about how he can't understand people who are confused by technology.
Now, my dear old mum's no fool -- she's much better read and more widely travelled than me by far -- but remote controls and tech in general baffle the bejeezus out of her. She doesn't have the conditioned response of my generation to seeing a button we don't know the function of: where we simply press it and see what happens, she's worried that it'll break the damn thing.
It occurs to me that this is the result of the industrial collapse of the western world. While we were blithely pissing our profits up the wall in the 60s, 70s and 80s, the Japanese and Koreans were investing in new technologies and the means to build them incredibly cheaply.
As a result, every phone, every computer, every TV is built in the Far East, where user expectations and mindset are very different to ours. When my mum was growing up, everything was built in Britain with the British way of doing things in mind. If remote controls and instruction manuals were designed and written by middle-aged women from Wiltshire, they'd be ten times easier to use. And ten times the price, of course. The cost of importing cheap technology is that we've had to develop the ability to find out what our gadgets do, instead of it being obvious.