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Just Give Me a Nice Big Knob and I'll Be Happy

One of the inevitable side effects of technology is that people try to improve things that are already working perfectly well.

By Sid MarkPublished 4 months ago 6 min read
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A prime example is the ventilation controls in automobiles. Remember when your car had one big lever for hot and cold and another one for the fan? Blue = cold. Red = hot. In some cars there was even a snowflake and little heat waves in case you didn’t understand colors. That design was simple, intuitive and functional. So of course carmakers have abandoned it in favor of something much more complicated.

When I get into my car, I am greeted with this:

The first time I got into my car when it was a hundred degrees out, I couldn’t even figure out how to turn the A/C on. I kept looking for a button that said, you know, “A/C.” Or maybe “ON.” There's an “OFF” button, but no “ON.” How is that possible? I saw the button labeled “AUTO,” and thought, “Well, I know it’s not that one.” Because I already had an AUTO. I just wanted to make it colder.

After pressing every other button on the dash about six times (including a mysterious toggle switch with a red light next to it that activates Hugh Hefner’s defibrillator for all I know), I finally gave the AUTO button a try. It turns out, of course, that the AUTO button is the only one that actually does anything.

When I press the AUTO button, my car immediately goes into a panic, convinced that it needs to instantly lower the temperature to whatever number I happened to have left the thermostat set to. The fan kicks on at full blast, exorcising the inferno into my face while trying to scrape up some cool air. Meanwhile, I frantically claw at buttons on the dash, trying to reassure the car that it doesn’t need to kill itself in a misguided attempt to make me comfortable. Listen to him, R2! He’s dying! Curse my metal body, I wasn’t fast enough!

ECON? REC? As far as I can tell, neither of these buttons do anything. Finally my fingers find their way through the fiery blast to a couple of chiclet-sized sideways buttons hidden behind the steering wheel that control the air volume and direction. I usually hit the wrong one first, and then I hit the right one, but too many times, so that it cycles past the option I want and I have to go through them all again. I often manage to turn on the rear wipers and defrost while I’m at it. How is this better than the system of two big levers again?

Does anybody use the ECON button? What does it even do? Does it make my A/C run more economically? Is it like buying the “economy pack” of toilet paper, so that the ventilation system delivers massive amounts of cold air at a deep discount? Or is it simply a way to tell the car that sure, I want to be comfortable, but part of being comfortable is being secure in the knowledge that I’m not burning unreasonable amounts of unrenewable resources? Is there some kind of complex comfort-to-economy algorithm that it uses to determine how cool I can reasonably expect to be given the circumstances?

It doesn’t seem like I should have to tell my car to be economical. It seems like that should be the default setting. Just give me a special WASTEFUL button that I can use when I feel the need.

And REC. What is that about? I guess it stands for “recirculate,” meaning that the A/C will reuse the air inside the car rather than sucking in new air from outside. Again, why not make this the default setting, and then have a FART button that you can press when you really need some outside air?

Between you and me, I’m scared to press the REC button because I’m afraid that I’ll forget to turn it off and pass out from a lack of oxygen. “Poor bastard,” the paramedics will say as they pick through the wreckage of my car, “He forgot to turn off the REC button and asphyxiated on his own emissions.”

The ventilation controls in Mrs. Diesel’s car are similarly over-engineered. It has a highly advanced climate control system that would presumably settle on a comfortable temperature eventually if I didn’t immediately hit COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD COLD every time I got in the car.

I have the same problem with my microwave. I just want to make a cold thing hot. Why do I have fifty-eight different buttons on my microwave, but not a single button labeled “Make a cold thing hot”? The closest thing is a button labeled “Plate of Food.” “Hey, ‘Plate of Food,’” I thought, when I noticed that button. “That’s exactly what I have! I have a plate of food!” What do I need all those other buttons for? Sometimes it’s a bowl of food or cup of food, but I make sure to put it on a plate so there won’t be an explosion or anything.

These things seem to go in cycles. Sometimes I drive my father-in-law's truck, and its ventilation controls are about as complicated as those spinny wheels and things that they put on those activity walls for toddlers:

Super-easy, right? Throw in a fake plastic phone and a big red button for making honking noises and I'm sold.

And yet, I cannot for the life of me figure out how to set his radio presets. I know, you're thinking, "Why would you set somebody else's radio presets?" Well, because every time I drive that truck, I think, "Why doesn't he have any presets set? I might as well set them to the stations I like, if he's not going to use them. And then I spend five minutes swerving wildly between lanes while I hit buttons with labels like PROG and SET before finally giving up.

By contrast, to set the presets on my car, you turn the radio to the station you want and then press and hold the desired preset button for three seconds. It's the simplest thing in the world. Why would anyone make a radio work any other way, especially once you've demonstrated that you understand the Two Big Knobs principle of ventilation control? It's like the engineers have meetings where they decide that they have to make the radio presets ridiculously complicated, because they made the ventilation system way too easy to figure out.

Or did somebody patent the easy preset function, so every other company is stuck with outdated system unless they pony up for the coveted press-and-hold technology? And while I'm on the subject, what is the deal with some beer companies not using screw-off caps? I mean, seriously, we have the technology, right? Is there some advantage to using non-screw-off caps that I don't know about? Just fork over the money to the screw-off guy already, would you?

So if you're one of the guys designing these controls, here's the deal: Just make it simple. I'm not a stupid person, but there are certain basic things in life that I don't want to have to think about. Think of me as a caveman. "Grog cold! Push button make Grog warm! Grog's food cold! Push button make Grog's food warm!"

I trust that I have made myself clear. Don't make me use that switch in my car again.

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About the Creator

Sid Mark

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  • Everyday Junglist4 months ago

    Sid, I give you credit for clever story titles. I laughed my ass off.

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