I’ve recently come in contact with a door that’s got me thinking. It’s the sort of door that requires a key to be in the lock and turned 180 degrees to open the door. This normally isn’t a problem at all if the door is a push, or if there is enough friction between the key and the tensioned locking mechanism to let you pull the door open with the key. This particular door requires one hand turning the key and another hand on the handle pulling the door open. So when I arrive with something in my hand I have to put it down, open the door, wedge the door open with my foot or shoulder, pick up my package, and go inside.
Why am I talking about doors you might ask? Because I live in a discordant world. How can I be a minimalist and a consummate consumer? How can I admire tradition and progress? How do I worship engineering, technology, and, science, robotics, nano-technology, quantum computing, and everything science has given us and yet admire the beauty of a hand forged nail, a hand hewn beam, a beautifully made class-A amplifier, or a perfectly tuned petrol engine?
Well lets go back to the door. Doors have more-or-less been perfected. They’ve been the same for a while now. I admire a good door, a door that works well and that never gets in my way, and especially a door that has been doing it for decades. This is why it’s such a failure of human intelligence to have a two-handed door. To this point I have the utmost admiration for design and engineering.
What about an automatic door? Is it necessary or good to take something as simple and functional as a door and install a motor so that it can be opened with no hands? In my mind this is one step too far. This is taking technology and making life so much more complicated than it needs to be.
For almost every application, there is a point where simplicity, minimalism, and longevity is maximized and perfect convenience is almost maintained. Consider a bicycle. Besides very small improvements, they haven’t changed much in 40 years. Or consider a stove-top kettle. It’s cheap, it lasts for decades, and it whistles when it’s boiled. How much has the electric kettle improved your quality of life? Did you bemoan the fact that your car windows had to be rolled down before power windows were standard? Just think about all the tiny little conveniences in your car! Imagine if all the time and money spend developing and installing gizmos was spend designing an efficient and reliable engine. Imagine if all the engineers who develop hair driers, coffee grinders, electric blinds, touch-screen central air controllers, GPS enabled smart-phone cameras, and every other gadget you own were working on a clean energy source for the planet.
I suppose what I’m proposing is a cost/benefit analysis for technology. If you had to pay for it, would you install an automatic door at the grocery story? Would you employ an engineer to invent such a machine, and a mechanic to install it? I think not.
The collective human genius would be better spent solving problems bigger than the minor inconveniences in your life. Bigger problems, or fixing my door.