Having recently condensed several of the world’s most idiotic inventions into the Dumbest Gadgets and Technologies Ever, we couldn’t resist glancing back at some of the runners up. (After all, as any good journalist worth their weight in newsprint knows, you never know when a creative punchline’s needed.) Ironically enough, it soon proved obvious that they were just too good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) not to share. And so, after another heated round of debate and discussion, we’ve whittled the list down a handful more of the most embarrassing, mind-boggling, impossible-to-comprehend technologies ever to grace planet Earth. With that in mind, brace yourself: Following are ten more feats of creativity and engineering the world would be a brighter place without.
True story: At one point, everybody’s mom thought AOL was “the Internet.” Though most neophyte Web users are now well past the “You’ve got mail!” phase, we still question why AOL ever caught on as a sort of tech-handicapped entry ramp to the online superhighway. People essentially lined up like brainwashed sheep to pay monthly fees for AOL’s crippled suite of quasi-Internet offerings. Amusingly, this confusing jumble of buttons and shortcuts further revolved around keywords – a lazy replacement for domain names that people usually couldn’t remember when they wanted to visit a site, anyway. Ultimately, we do have to tip our hats to AOL, though, for undoubtedly supplying much of the idiot fodder required for Something Awful’s classic ICQ pranks, circa 2000.
Sony’s Rootkit DRM
Sony’s failed attempt to shield its music CDs from piracy in 2005 must go down as one of the worst attempts in digital rights management (DRM – a.k.a. copy protection) history. Upon playing one of the “protected” discs in a computer, paying customers would be treated to software invisibly installed on their computers in an attempt to keep songs from being ripped from it. As an unintended consequence, the same bit of code caused crashes, reliability issues, and opened a convenient security hole for other viruses to worm their way in. Antivirus companies even had to release virus definitions to remove Sony’s brilliant DRM from infected computers to fix them. Is it any wonder CD sales were down 19 percent in 2008 alone? That’s corporate karma.
Let’s face it: Society is just not ready for all of its members to have ready access to broadcasting themselves. YouTube is hard evidence that technology has surpassed the mean intelligence of the human race. Bring this miraculous leap forward to some alien race, because we obviously can’t do anything useful with it. After watching kids explain how to smoke Smarties, overweight cats get stuck in cat doors, and reading 50 pages of people from different countries calling each other racial slurs (link to any YouTube video ever), we’ve decided YouTube may be the harbinger of doomsday. Just think what future intelligent beings will think when they unearth YouTube’s servers beneath a pile of debris in the year 2760. “Served them right.”
Proprietary Storage Formats
Sony, we’re looking at you. Again. Remember Memory Stick? Memory Stick Pro? Memory Stick Duo? Memory Stick Micro? The number one argument against buying any Sony device would seem to be the pricy Sony media you’ll have to buy in order to use it, all of which serve little purpose besides lining a certain Japanese manufacturer’s pockets. The sad part: Sony got off to a good start back in the day with the Mavica line, which was popular for using the common 3.5-inch floppy and CD formats, before moving in exactly the opposite direction by inventing its own nonsense formats to rack up cash alongside its cameras.
Memory Stick Pro
All the expense and addiction, none of the satisfaction: Welcome to the electronic cigarette concept. Though we applaud the health-conscious aspirations of this technology, which offers to give smokers a nicotine fix without all the harmful other chemicals, something about it just seems to defeat the whole point of puffing on a cancer stick. Just fess up: You started smoking because you thought it was cool and rebellious when you were 17. But the reality is that there’s nothing cool or rebellious about sucking on a rechargeable straw that shoots toxic chemicals into your lungs. Would you find James Dean, Frank Sinatra or Miles Davis smoking an electronic cigarette? We think not. Just quit, or be a real man and take up a safer hobby like chainsaw juggling instead.
We’re talking about the disposable video discs here, not the wildly popular encoding format. The format that Circuit City (may it rest in peace) helped bring about in the late 1990s seemed doomed from the get-go: Consumers were expected to buy $4 video discs that essentially expired 48 hours after the first viewing, then throw them away when they were done, like some sort of ultra-wasteful rental system. Fortunately, educated consumers (including the A/V enthusiast community) balked at the idea, and Circuit City lost $114 million when the scheme folded only a year after it left the gate. What’s next: Disposable DVD players too?
DIVX Display at Circuit City
If you can ignore the life-sucking nature of traditional massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), we can actually credit them as an engrossing way to compete and be part of a team with a common purpose online. Second Life, on the other hand, makes no attempt to veil its worthlessness with some sort of competition or point: It’s pure escapism for the least successful one percent of the population. Not content with your slummy apartment in the worst part of town living above a bunch of crack dealers? For only $10 a month, you can be rolling high in Second Life as an anthropomorphic hyena living in a virtual Lego fortress, with a huge sack of Linden dollars and a virtual dragon with wheels on it in the garage. Score. Who needs anything but an intravenous supply of Mountain Dew in the real world when you can be a virtual millionaire in Second Life?
Invisible Fences for Dogs
What a great concept – a fence that relies on your dog’s own sense of restraint to keep it the yard. Sure, it works to keep Rover from chasing birds and squirrels, but what you really get is a fence that your dog can only break through for the things it really wants to chase, which in most cases are the things it really shouldn’t be chasing: Mailmen, bicyclists, runners, babies, etc. It’s like a seatbelt that works when you slam the brakes on during an emergency stop, lulling you into a sense of safety, then snaps as soon as you crash straight into a concrete barrier at 60mph. There when you don’t need it, never when you do. The real lesson, of course, is that you can’t rely on the brain of an animal that eats its own feces to keep it in check.
Invisible Fence Brand
iPod Docks with Tube Amps
These things are the very definition of stupid tech: Two conflicting pieces of technology thrown together in a completely befuddling and contradictory device. Tube amps are an obvious pitch to audiophiles, who prize them for their warm sound, but who hiss and spit at the thought of music compressed music… as in the kind an iPod holds. Digital audio fans, meanwhile, have no use for devices as antiquated, inefficient and expensive as tube amps, and would probably chalk up the buzz around them to mere myth. Who, then, do these things appeal to? We can only imagine that the companies making them target uneducated iPod fans who just think the tubes look cool, or who buy into their alleged sonic qualities without doing too much research into the matter. One can only hope all two of you who fit into this demographic are actually satisfied.
iPod Dock with Tube Amp
Balk if you will at the $5,000 price of a pimped out Alienware or Falcon Northwest gaming system, but in 1983, Apple pretty much set the bar for impossibly expensive computers with the $10,000 Lisa. That’s over $21,000 in today’s dollars. Yes, it was “ahead of its time,” and technically the first commercial computer to offer a graphical user interface, but it also chugged along under the load of all that monochrome glitz and had barely any software to even run. Not surprisingly, a young Steve Jobs actually holds much of the credit (or blame) for the unit. Though he has certainly redeemed himself with better products since then, many of the most recent ones prove that his penchant for the pricy remains. Thanks a bunch, Steve-o!