Practical Technology Can Be Sexy

A man waits at a bus stop. i i

hide captionA new iPhone app lets you know exactly when the next bus is arriving.

Palladius/via flickr
A man waits at a bus stop.

A new iPhone app lets you know exactly when the next bus is arriving.

Palladius/via flickr

Few pieces of technology have actually revolutionized my life. But lightening struck when I least expected it.

A few weeks ago I downloaded an iPhone app called NextBus DC. In essence, it predicts when the next bus will hit my local bus stop. Anyone who's taken public transportation knows the pain of waiting listlessly for a bus that was scheduled to arrive 20 minutes ago. The NextBus app uses GPS positioning, the bus schedule and traffic conditions to estimate arrival times.

Having used it for more than a month, I haven't waited for a bus more than three minutes.

It has literally changed my life. It means an extra 10 minutes playing with my baby in the morning. It means finishing off my cup of coffee, when in the past I'd drop it off in the sink completely full. It means that I don't have to curse under my breath when a bus — 30 minutes delayed — finally arrives with three others right behind it. It means I don't have to agonize about whether I just missed a bus by a minute so I'm stuck.

And I know this sounds trivial. But it also got me thinking, what other piece of technology changed an essential part of my life? The Internet and computers were around by the time I needed them, so I couldn't immediately think of something that has changed my everyday life.

I can only imagine the first time a car came onto the scene. Or the first time you could flip a switch and BAM, there's some light. Or for that matter, when microwave ovens made it possible to ditch the gas stove to reheat leftovers. Those are things that change your daily routine.

In some ways, it surprised me that something as simple as a $1.99 iPhone app with more than few bugs could be such a game changer.

Just the other day, I ran to the bus stop a minute before the bus pulled up. My neighbor had been waiting for 10 minutes.

"Now I know the bus is coming, 'cause I see you running up here," she said looking at my iPhone. "I gotta get myself one of those. I could have had myself a bagel or something."

Most technology now is about coolness; it's about ways to entertain your eyes and ears and hardly ever about the simple, practical things in life. But what something like NextBus taught me is that practical tech is the sexiest tech.

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