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to-do list items. Or maybe it could even send automatic yet customized replies to unimportant messages. (In my journalistic work, I’ve found that I can reply to 80 percent of my e-mail using just six or seven templates, but I have to do the cut-and-paste work myself.)
I don’t know what the answer is. I just know e-mail is still very broken.
4. A/V Amateur Hour
At almost every public talk or panel discussion I’ve ever attended or been involved in, a microphone goes dead or causes ear-splitting feedback, or a presenter with PowerPoint slides has to fumble for five minutes to get his laptop connected to the projector. These glitches are so common that when they don’t happen, I personally congratulate the A/V technicians afterward and get their contact information so I know how to obtain their services in the future.
The needed invention here is probably some kind of software-driven system that forms temporary wireless links between all of the input devices in a room (microphones, laptops, clickers) and all of the output devices (loudspeakers and projectors) and plays traffic cop, automatically assigning the right-of-way to whomever needs to speak or present. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?
5. Time Zone Terrors
The world is divided into 24 time zones, but most calendar software today seems to be built around the assumption that we’ll spend all our time in just one of them. When you’re traveling, there’s no easy, automatic way to make sure that the meetings you set up while you were in one time zone show up in the appropriate time slot once you get to the next one.
If we all had just one device to store our schedules, this wouldn’t be such a hard problem to fix. You’d specify the time zone for each meeting on your agenda, and when you traveled across zones, the calendar software would adapt to local time and shift the meeting into the correct slot. The problem is that these days, most people’s calendars live in the cloud, and have to be updated across multiple devices. I still haven’t figured out how to get my Mac, my iPhone, and my iPad to show the same events at the same times when I travel. At least one of these devices always gets it wrong, which puts the mental burden of tracking the real time for each meeting back on me.
I’m not a software engineer, so I don’t have a concrete proposal for fixing the time zone problem. (Maybe we should follow China’s lead: the country is large enough to span three or four time zones, but in fact has only one, Beijing Standard Time.) All I know is that the first calendar maker to get this right will win my undying loyalty.
* * *
Einstein said, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” He was probably talking about lofty things like world peace, but I suspect it’s also true of more mundane problems like teleconferencing, podcasts, e-mail, A/V technology, and calendars. It’s time to rethink each of these technologies from the ground up, rather than limping along with our 20th century solutions. That’s what startups are supposed to do. So get busy, dammit!
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