Why do technologies sometimes go backwards?

Take the humble mouse. Years ago they had three useful buttons. Then they dropped down to two and got scroll wheels.

There have been exciting forays into side-buttons, built-in rollerballs, mice that accept gestures or squeezes and of course there was the truly terrible mighty mouse which only had one button but was supposed to detect when you were trying to use it as a two-button. It never worked and I threw mine away.

Why not just give it two fucking buttons?

Anyhow, the world seemed to have settled on the two-button scroll-wheel mouse. Probably becuase it worked and if you missed the third button that badly you could use the scroll wheel to click with. The truth is though that most apps were built for windows which required.. two buttons and no more.

There was still the issue of getting crap stuck round your mouseball but that was soon resolved by the optical mouse which didn’t even need a ball and shortly after this they got rid of the mouse-cord as well! No more constant drifting to the right because there’s 2M of mouse-cable hanging off your desk.

I naively thought we’d reached the pinnacle in mouse technology until last week when I went to buy a new one.

All the optical mice have moved from infra-red to laser in order to increase mouse accuracy. Unfortunately this has had the slight drawback of reducing the number of surfaces it will work on.

You can’t use a laser-based mouse on a mirrored or glass surface, it’s actually LESS accurate on fabrics and seems to me to just be fiddling for the sake of it. Even a 40 year old ball-mouse will work on my kitchen worktop but will the brand new logitech v350 I just spent £30 on? Will it fuck!

Why is it in the human nature to invent problems just for the sake of solving them? Can’t someone get to work on a pair of hover-boots or something instead of adding useless shit to the things we already have?

These 347 words were written on Tue Feb 24, 2009
fletcher-lecture technology