I feel it is about time I commented on the high-technology tap that is in our Faculty tearoom. It was put in several months ago during refurbishment. It’s certainly an impressive-looking tap. It has switches for hot and cold water, that you can flip up or down to turn the water on (the only difference I can find is that if you flip it down, it will spring back, whereas if you flip it up, it won’t), and blue and red LEDs, which I think are there to tell you whether the cold water and hot water are at their appropriate temperatures. But the most exciting thing about it is that it keeps you on your toes because occasionally (well, fairly frequently) it won’t do quite what you’d expect.
You put the coffee granules in your mug, hold it under the tap, flick the ‘hot’ switch, and, as if by magic, the tap opens up full bore on the nicely refrigerated cold water. Why? I have no idea. Monday morning it was refusing to give me cold water at all. It didn’t matter whether the switch was flicked up or down, nothing would come out. Until I gave up and walked away, when it responded by switching on, despite the lever being in the ‘off’ position. It really does have a mind of its own.
That’s often the trouble with high technology – too often ‘high technology’ means ‘it doesn’t work’. No-one I know frets when they have to pick up their desk phone to make a call to someone, but if it’s a case of video-conferencing, we all get very tetchy because experience tells us that there is no guarantee the system will behave as advertised. Essentially, the higher the technology, the more that can go wrong, and the less likely it is that a mere mortal (i.e. the user) has the skill to spot what has happened and to fix it.
Another case in point is my high technology back door to my old house in the UK. I had it put in when I had the windows replaced with double-glazed units. It was a pretty high security door – with bolts going everywhere, until the point that one screw loosened a bit causing one of the bolts not to fit snugly into its hole. Because all the bolts were slaved to the one locking mechanism, that meant none of them would go into their holes (in fact, I couldn’t turn the key at all) and consequently for the sake of a screw, that needed a serviceman with the right tools to get to, my highly secure door was unlockable for a few days.
Technology is great – until it goes wrong.