With an hour to kill between errands last night, I strolled through one of the large national electronics stores-the kind that sell audio, video, computers, shavers, ovens, cell phones, and high-priced gift cards.
After only a few minutes down the aisles it was obvious how disconnected our electronics commodity/appliance world has become to any pretense of practical reality. Or was that disconnect between myself and what they were selling?
There were the obvious breakdowns, like internet and television displays integrated into refrigerator doors. One refrigerator even had a set of rabbit ears mounted on top. Now when was the last time you saw a network jack and/or any coax run next to a refrigerator power outlet? Let alone a refrigerator with nothing placed on top of it?
One equally effective display was for bedside table radios. Most were radios with alarms, and actually very nicely styled. Pity not one of them could actually pick up a radio signal. Perhaps one could argue they all worked equally well in their RF sinkhole.
Over in the content area was a fixture with one of the higher-definition CD format discs for sale on serious discount. I did try and find a player for these types of discs in the store. Honest, there was not one to be found.
Sashaying into the "theater" area, the one video projector was obviously operating on component video. I say that not because of the wonderful resolution on display, but rather more due to the monochromatic aspect of the presentation.
Obviously, the salesman was a big fan of Martian documentaries and was unaware there even was an issue with the projection. The most painful aspect of our conversation was the fact that the identical material was playing on the 50-inch plasma flanking the projection. You'd think at least they'd turn it off. Not the plasma; the projector.
Tucked in well past the cell phones and computers was the dingiest area in the store. In case you haven't already guessed it, it was the audio section.
There were roughly four dozen electronic boxes on display. Most were black, a few with silver trim. I couldn't help but think the folks behind all this junk had absolutely no clue that some people on this planet actually enjoyed listening to music. Clearly someone had made it his objective in life to defeat any possible enjoyment one might derive from listening to recorded music with this stuff.
There were DVD/CD combo players for $70 featuring palm-sized remote controls with 615 buttons on them; the quality of which is only matched by the free toys thrown in with kid's meals at the local drive-through. The plastic drive drawers were so flimsy they might crack under the weight of a couple of CDs. Their displays featured 4-point fonts to further ease operator convenience. They did feature component outputs however, which solved the theater projector mystery quite quickly. Shameful.
There were receivers with acoustic environment emulation programs that mimicked large concert halls, jazz clubs, baseball stadia, and the like. All were hooked up to a set of surround speakers no larger than a couple of stacked ham sandwiches. Now, I don't want to offend anyone in the business, but in no way was I reminded of any concert hall, jazz club, or baseball stadium I've ever been to, nor would go to if they actually sounded this bad. And I've been to a few bad ones over the years.
The computer section will always hold a special place in my heart. The first thing I noticed was how many angry customers were waiting in the return line. I listened to the first guy tell how his new wireless router had already been password-protected by the Jackson family. All he wanted was the Jackson's phone number for the DES encryption code so he could get it to work. Barring that, he enquired as to whether the store could trade him for a new router that hadn't been returned and shrink-wrapped locally.
The second customer made the grave error of not having purchased a buyer's protection plan. They treated him as if he was a ghost. I turned around and left at that point. Clearly, this was not a store for me to do business with now or in the future.
I concluded that, in general, we systems integrators and contractors do a far better job in just figuring out what to do for our customers and should be proud of our achievements. At the very least, we push each button and try to make it do what it says it is going to do.
And that is a very good thing, for we will live long and prosper if this is all we have to compete against.