#431: ONoff

I’m always interested in the idea of symmetry. Actually, the real interest is in asymmetry -especially whenever that arises apparently spontaneously.

In today’s world, everyone in the comfy developed countries is exhorted to ‘downsize their carbon footprint’, even if those doing the exhortation have no concept of what that means (suddenly Carbon is a bad thing?).


My proposal is to concentrate on waste and specifically wasting electricity. Today’s invention, without any official hectoring, is simply to create switches for everything electrical which are quite difficult to switch on and very, very easy to flip off. This would cause users to pause and think ‘do I really need to switch the X on?

The difficulty might involve a multi-step ‘on’ process, rather than one involving great amounts of finger strength (think about trying to log off from Windows, where you get asked that infuriating ‘are you sure?’ and imagine applying that to energy-absorbing systems). It might take the form of greater frictional resistance to the movement of a switch, or a sound effect which is a slightly annoying whine in the ‘on’ direction and applause when you switch off. Now that fingerprint readers are available at a few dollars on thumb drives, switches might only activate for certain individuals. (A symmetrical version might even record how many times that person switched on and didn’t switch off).

The asymmetry which any such threshold creates, can perhaps make people think before they act. If this user-unfriendly development had the effect of making people never switch anything off, then each electrical apparatus could be made to automatically deactivate after a certain length of time. This period would have to be set by the user, before the on switch could be activated.

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