I heard a curious story on BBC Radio Four's "Today" programme today reporting that Prince Charles said he prefers VHS cassettes to DVDs. His reason was that you can more easily find the place you were at previously on a VHS tape than on a DVD. The quote comes from an interview in this month's Esquire magazine, and the Guardian newspaper has already jumped on the bandwagon mocking Charles for the comment.
I have to admit, my first thoughts were a mix of "doh, idiot" and "well, it's a Bank Holiday Friday, there's clearly no news today". But then I realised that in this apparent non-story there as a quite profound statement about how our supposed enlightenment through technology is alienating everyone who was born before the invention of the transistor.
Our much maligned Monarch-to-be actually makes a very valid point if you think about it. In the creation of the new digital wonder-technology - the DVD - we actually lost some of the intuitive simplicity of the old analogue format. And that's not really progress is it?
I'm more responsible than most for technology worship, but with our numerous gizmos we do sometimes over-complicate our life. I once saw two people in a bar spend 10 minutes trying to Bluetooth their phone numbers to each other and failing. On giving up one said to the other "I'll just email it to you" and the other agreed. I couldn't help myself intervening by asking "why don't you just write your phone numbers on pieces of paper and exchange them". They looked at me as if I'd stepped off the Ark as my suggestion simply didn't compute in their digital-or-nothing world.
Clearly, technology has brought lateral thinking to a grinding halt. We've forgotten how to do things without technology, and the problem is that we now totally disregard those even further down the learning-curve than us.
In our 24 and CSI world, where everything is online and instant, technology appears to have delivered the Arthur C Clark promise that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". But the reality is that technology is still very primitive and pretty pointless if you're not a geek. Connecting to a computer network, wireless or otherwise, is unforgivably complicated; the programming of a video is still as difficult as it's always been; after a century of existence you still can't easily time-shift record radio and the introduction of the computer to banking seems to have have sent customer service hurtling back in time several decades.
Prince Charles made a very valid complaint, and someone needs to ask why in creating the DVD we lost a most basic of requirements when we have such an array of wondrous technology that we could have employed to improve on it.
When designing a DVD Menu or Web page I ask myself, "could my mother use this". From now on, I'll be asking if it's simple enough for Prince Charles to use. And it will be a sincere question, not sarcasm.