The other day, I came across a bit of technology that I found both fascinating and appalling. Before I go in to the specifics of this experience I want to talk a bit about the reality that technology often has both positive and negative aspects.

Many people (not me if you’ve read my earlier post) love the way that Facebook can connect people, and yet almost every day I read an article or headline talking about security and privacy concerns with Facebook. Google has made it insanely easy to find content “for free” on the Internet and at the same time is tracking everything you do online and selling that information to the highest bidder.

It seems for every step technology takes in automation and efficiency, we (the humans) lose something in privacy and security. Clearly this is a bargain we’re OK with. When I got my first Android phone, the original Droid, I saw the Google imprint on the back and grudgingly resigned myself to the fact that Google would now know everything I did on that phone. When I got my next Android phone, again with Google on the back plate, I didn’t even give it a thought. That horse had already left the gate and wasn’t coming back.

My recent encounter, however, made me think again about the price we pay for all of this new technology. Some friend of my wife and me had given us a gift card to Chili’s restaurant, so we decided it to use it the other day and headed over to the local Chili’s. As we approached the table to be seated I noticed a youngster in a booth feverously tapping away at what I first thought was a tablet computer. Then when we sat at our booth, low and behold, our own touch tablet. My wife and I looked at each other and said simultaneously, “what the blank is this?” My blank was more graphic than hers.

Of course what we had encountered was the Ziosk, the new tabletop tablet that lets you not only pay for your meal at the table, but also allows you to go an entire dinner without ever having to interact with anyone else at the table. You can even tell it to let your server know you don’t want to talk to them.

Immediately my wife attacked the design of the Ziosk. This was definitely not something out of Cupertino, CA. Perhaps it was designed to be heavy, industrial and unattractive to stop anyone from taking it home. Then we started tapping away on the screen to find out some of the wonderful things you can do with your Ziosk while waiting for your margaritas and fajitas. Yes, you can order dessert and pay your bill. That’s convenient, but you can also play games, read USA Today (oh yeah), and take a customer survey. Oh the fun was just beginning. In fact, the Ziosk website says it’s “fun and convenient”.

When our server showed up my wife blurted out her disgust with Ziosk, and the server was well trained to respond, “People either like it or don’t. It’s kind of mixed.” In fact, one of the selling points of the Ziosk is that it’s a conversation starter for the server. We fell hook-line-and-sinker into that one. Mission accomplished.

So after 5 minutes of discovery with the Ziosk, I turned the screen away from us and pushed it against the wall. I sat for a couple of minutes observing others and their Ziosk interactions. The youngster had stopped messing with his, perhaps because the parents had moved it out of his reach. I didn’t see one other person interacting with the Ziosk except to move it out of their way.

Perhaps some people will find the Ziosk to be the greatest thing in a restaurant since all-you-can-eat Friday, but none of those people were at Chili’s that day.

All technology has a cost beyond just the amount you pay for it. There is your time learning it. The frustration when it doesn’t work the way you think it should. The waste when new technology comes along to replace it. The key is technology where the benefits greatly out-weigh the costs. Even though the Ziosk didn’t cost me a dime, the time I wasted with it didn’t provide me with enough benefit to out-weigh that lost time. Good luck Ziosk.

Peace and best wishes to all this holiday season. May the New Year bring you much happiness.

Chris Hanson
The Fortunate Technologist and CEO of thedatabank, inc.