metrosantacruz.com
News, music, movies, events & restaurants in Santa Cruz, California from Metro Santa Cruz weekly

Columns
12.12.07

home | metro silicon valley index | columns | technology news


Technology News - Annalee Newitz

Technology News

I Only Want Consumerist Crap For the Holidays

By Annalee Newitz


FOR THE HOLIDAYS, I don't want to do something nice for the Earth. I don't want to buy special laptops loaded up with Western video games and imagery for kids in Africa without computers. I don't want to get handmade iPod covers from the Etsy online store that nurtures local craftspeople. And I don't want to go offline for a day to commune with people in "the real world." I want toxic Chinese toys covered with paint that will make me hallucinate. I want a sparkly crap mobile phone that will break within a week and turn into circuit-board garbage that cannot be recycled and is therefore shipped to developing countries where it will be hacked and resold.

I want a media device that's wrapped in so many layers of plastic and nonrecyclable material that the very act of opening it is like smashing my carbon footprint into the face of Mother Earth. I want useless gizmos that are mass-produced by machines who stole jobs from nonunionized workers who stole jobs from the natives.

In short, I want a Nintendo Wii. It's the biggest-selling video game console ever, and it's made out of so much biosphere-destroying garbage that I'll be scrubbing methane out of the air for the rest of my life to make up for even thinking about owning one. Plus, Wii controllers are motion-sensitive, which means they strap onto your body.

Every time I use my Wii—which, I would like to underscore, I do not yet own—I will be turning myself into a literal extension of my machine. Do you hear that, hippies? I want to strap electronics to my body and trance out to violent imagery while I wave my arms around killing imaginary things. That's what I want to do for the holidays.

But the Wii isn't just a consumer electronics death monster. It's also something I think everyone should own or at least try out because it truly represents the future of technology. The fact that people can now interact with a video game simply by waving their arms—and the video game "sees" the waving and responds to it onscreen—is revolutionary.

There's a good reason why Wiis are popular with people of all ages, unlike most game systems. It responds to natural human movement rather than forcing people to learn elaborate combinations of buttons and knobs on bizarrely shaped controllers. It's a machine made for humans.

Already those humans are figuring out way to repurpose the Wii and make it work with other kinds of devices. There's a Wii DJ (called, of course, WiiJ) who uses his Wii controllers to cue up and mix tracks on a computer. Somebody else is using the Wii controller to operate Bluetooth devices. And so on.

The point is, Wii is cool not because it's a video game system but because it's introduced a new way of interacting with computers. If you want know what a home-computer setup will look like in 10 years, play with a Wii. The mouse will be replaced with a motion-based setup. You will point with your finger and click tapping two fingers together. Or by saying "click."

I don't mean to romanticize the Wii, because it is after all just another thing with built-in obsolescence. It's a toy you'll throw away without thinking about how it will wind up as indigestible silicon shards. It sucks when great future innovations are doomed to become garbage that may last longer than the benefits of the innovation itself.

But if the holidays are a time of reflecting on the past and the future, you might as well hang out with your friends and play Guitar Hero on the Wii. After all, donating to cool charities and supporting local artists is something you should be doing all year. You should buy a cute present for your sweetie from Etsy when it strikes your fancy, not just when the capitalist juggernaut tells you to. And of course you should never be offline for a day. That's just taking it too far.


Annalee Newitz is a surly media nerd who will be online for the next 50 years.


Send a letter to the editor about this story.