Why Are Electronic Devices So Blinking Obnoxious?

(Photo credit: Junjan)
(Photo credit: Junjan)

Our precious attentions are bombarded not just by email spam and untargeted advertising. Electronic devices are guilty as well.

Venture capitalist Albert Wenger recently described the overkill of bright lights and LEDs. He said: “It seems that every device these days comes with one or more LEDs to announce its presence. Between a couple of laptops, some cell phones, some cordless phones, several powerstrips, a TV and a cablebox our bedroom looks a bit like Times Square.”

I know exactly what he’s talking about, and nowhere is this more evident than in my family’s home movie room. I take pride in our movie room because it’s full of high-tech gadgets to accentuate our viewing and listening pleasure. We’ve got a big plasma television powered by a DVD player, a DVR, a cable box, a Roku, a dedicated PC, a powerful receiver, surround-sound speakers and a speaker selection panel. We’ve also got an Internet router, high-voltage power strips and an Internet radio tuner. I’m probably leaving a few things out, but you get the idea — there’s a lot of electronics, and they all lead to a discreet entertainment console.

And there lies the problem: While I try to hide as many devices as possible in console cabinets, it seems every one violates the sacred darkness in which we prefer to watch our movies. Some blink, while others emit a steady glow. Some are single LEDs, while others are complex visual displays. It’s a sharp and dull pain all in one.

The solution? Albert suggested duct tape to cover the LEDs. But I’ve long found black electric tape to be far more elegant, and it really works well. Through this method, I’ve also found that most LEDs and displays are superfluous. I don’t miss the blinking lights from the Fios router, the ambient glow from backlit logo of the Samsung television, nor the blinking time and channel indicator on the cable box — and so on.

All this points to a major, common design flaws. If a home-entertainment device is supposed to work in the background, it shouldn’t kick and scream for attention. It should do its job flawlessly and subtly, so I can focus my attention on the intended experience (video and audio). That means LEDs and displays should remain dim, if not invisible, when idle or unneeded. I shouldn’t have to invent ways of hiding or filtering their annoying status updates. It’s bad enough with email spam and most advertising. This is one reason we limit the electronics in our bedrooms.

If electronic devices must include a display or status indicator, they should take a page from the Amazon Kindle. The Kindle uses electronic paper, which requires no backlight, and is much easier on the eyes.

This seems a trivial rant, but a solution will become more important as more electronic devices enter our lives.

(This also was my latest MediaPost column.)

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Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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8 Comments

  1. Thanks, Max. for making clear and owning up to the human factors that co-create the problem, e.g., your preference for sacred darkness, your experience of status updates as annoying, your reliance on focused attention to achieve your intended experience. Humans need to speak up for themselves as we assimilate with machines.

  2. Speaking up is difficult because the machines encroach subtly, often
    disguised as an aspirational complement. Before you know it, their flawed
    presence is ubiquitous.

  3. Thanks, Max. for making clear and owning up to the human factors that co-create the problem, e.g., your preference for sacred darkness, your experience of status updates as annoying, your reliance on focused attention to achieve your intended experience. Humans need to speak up for themselves as we assimilate with machines.

  4. Speaking up is difficult because the machines encroach subtly, often
    disguised as an aspirational complement. Before you know it, their flawed
    presence is ubiquitous.

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