I occasionally get these flashes of clarity, where technology companies are uniting as an evil force to persuade us that we need things that we've hitherto been able to manage perfectly well without. Yesterday I read about a new remote control from Panasonic, a "soft, flesh-like" device that flops wearily over the corner of your table, but becomes rigid and ready for action when you touch it. Momentarily amusing in a Carry On-kind of way, but not something that I'd describe as a boon to the average household. And when these seeds of doubt are sown, I start looking at all kinds of things with a newly cynical eye.
Recent weeks have seen a stream of TV adverts for Sky's HD service, in which Sir Ian Botham and Nasser Hussain wax lyrical about the awesome quality of the impending coverage of this summer's Ashes series. Apparently, it'll be like having the cricket transported directly into your front room – presumably without the associated danger of having your cut glass decanters damaged by mis-hit cover drives. No-one could deny the supreme quality of an HD recording (or a Blu-ray disc) played back on an HD television, but technology companies are going to find it increasingly difficult to get us to part with cash for substantial improvements on paper that are getting harder for the human senses to discern. (Cricket fans must be particularly tough nuts to crack, considering that many of us are still happy to get Test Match coverage from a crackling long-wave radio.)
Online music service Spotify found itself confronting this very issue this week when attempting to recruit paying customers to their highly-praised free online jukebox. The doubling of audio quality (from 160kb/s to 320kb/s) for everyone willing to pay £9.99 a month was described as an "unparalleled" listening experience, but as a bloke with 37-year-old ears and 10-year-old speakers, I can barely tell the difference – and while hi-buffs who spend improbable sums on gold-plated audio connectors may disagree, I suspect I'm not alone. Similarly, upping the number of lines on my TV from 625 to 720 or 1080 might give a superficial gloss to England's imminent battle against Australia, but to be honest I'm more interested in whether they manage to scrape to victory. Obviously I adore gadgets, but I'm becoming increasingly indifferent to claims of quality, and way more interested in what they can actually do.
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