We take modern technology so much for granted that it is useful to pause for reflection occasionally.
One who is accustomed to seeing newspaper type created from molten lead by Linotype machines is understandably impressed when the technocrats say to him, "Now we're going to show you how to do it without molten lead and without Linotypes."
These days it is done with electrons on a machine that looks like its father was a typewriter and its mother was a television set.
Technology also helps us in other ways at The Washington Post. For example, we make frequent use of our enclosed, vertical-mode personnel conveyors, sometimes referred to as "elevators."
Elevators are extremely useful, but a slight change in design could make them even better.
The present design causes delays because it permits the elevator to move in two directions -- "up" and "down." Note these two words carefully. Try to fix them in your mind, and use them as often as you can until you feel you have mastered them.
Although "up" and "down" appear on thousands of buttons used to summon elevators, the words are not generally understood by passengers.
When a passenger is confused and not sure which button will fetch an elevator headed in the direction he wants to go, he often resolves the issue by pushing both buttons. However, as Gold's Law explains, the first elevator that stops will always be going in the wrong direction.
This leads to interesting tableaus of three kinds. A printer or journalist who wants to go "up" at 5 p.m. will take a step or two toward an elevator door that has just opened and then hesitate when he notices that secretaries and executives in topcoats fill the cab. These people are obviously going home -- and home is down, not up.
"Up?" the newcomer will ask.
"Down," somebody on the elevator will say grimly while somebody else jabs at the elevator's controls to try to get it moving again.
A different scenario unfolds when the button pusher is alert enough to be aware of gongs and lighted arrows that signal the approach of an elevator. A technologically sophisticated button pusher remembers that if the lighted arrow points down, the elevator will be going down.
In this tableau, the button pusher ignores the elevator he has stopped. He whistles nonchalantly and gazes at the ceiling as he waits for an "up" elevator. The body language is quite clear: "Don't look at me," it says. "I didn't push the 'down' button."
The third type of outcome is the only one I enjoy when my elevator is stopped by somebody who cannot cope with the intricacies of modern technology. This is the one in which the button pusher gets into the elevator without realizing it is going in the wrong direction, and then remains trapped in it as it stops at every floor.
Unfortunately, however, the victim learns nothing from this experience. The next time he uses an elevator he will again push either the wrong button or both buttons.
Obviously the modern elevator is too complicated for general use. It should be redesigned to operate in only one direction.
Another technological marvel used in our building is the thermostat (thermo, a combining form meaning "heat," and stat, a combining form meaning "stationary" or "to make stationary").
It grieves me to report that many of our people do not know beans about thermostats and do not have the slightest interest in avoiding the waste of either energy or money. Or perhaps I should say they have no interest in avoiding the waste of somebody else's money.
A person who feels warm on an October or November day will open a window to let in some cool air. A nearby thermostat, sensing the temperature drop, will order the building's heating plant to work harder. This will very likely make it ncessary for more windows to be opened.
At 5 p.m. the fresh air addict will go home. He will, of course, leave the window open. The thermostat will call for ever more heat as the temperature outside drops during the night to 50, then 40, and finally to below freezing.
Unfortunately, there is no way to make a thermostat unidirectional, like an elevator, and there is apparently no way to lure some people into peaceful coexistence with modern technology.