How New Technology Is Rewiring Our Brains

Where's the Undo Button When You Really Need It?

You've reached the punchline of a tasteless joke just as the conversation in the room hits an unexpected lull. That priceless antique vase from your wife's late aunt is now a jumble of shards on the floor, thanks to your oafishness. You've slaved and sacrificed your entire life to raise your kids, and now they can't even be bothered to return your calls.

One of life's great tragedies is that it lacks an Undo button. But that doesn't stop people from trying. Josh Kelly, a principal of Fine Design Group (who possibly spends a little too much time inside Adobe Photoshop), can relate.

“All of us who work a lot on computers have become very accustomed to the shortcut that allows us to 'undo' our last action,” he says. “I've literally had situations on the phone where I've said something, or I've made a wrong turn while driving, and I've thought 'I'll just undo that with a keystroke.' I've also decided to do things thinking that I'll just undo them if they don't work out. All of these things can be undone, but sometimes with considerably more effort than pressing Command-X.”

Suffering From Prius Envy

Driving used to be simple: Put your key in the lock, open the door; put your key in the ignition, start the car. Now there's a remote control for everything--well, almost everything.

Harry E. Keller, Ph.D, owns a 2004 Toyota Prius, which he starts by pressing a button on the key fob. But when Keller, president of Paracomp, an Internet-based instructional software company, rents cars while traveling, he often finds himself sitting in the driver's seat, fumbling with the keys in his pocket and wondering why the car won't start.

It's not just cars. In today's push-button world, we tend to expect all doors to operate electronically. Keys? Aren't those something your parents used to carry?

“I have inadvertently waved my RFID dongle or clicked my car remote at my apartment door (which uses a traditional key) only to find that it isn't open when I crash into it,” notes Martha Ciske, a social media executive in Orlando, Florida. “A few squashed groceries can be replaced, but I have to admit my pride gets a little squashed too.”

Don't worry Martha, you're in good company.

“At least a couple times a year, I try to lock the door of my home with my car remote or, even more embarrassingly, with the television remote,” admits Crystal Washington, a marketing strategist based in Houston.

Ruined by the InterWebs

The Internet has given us "information at our fingertips.” So now that's where we want it, all the time. And when we can't have it, well, some of us get a little cranky.

“I can no longer watch TV,” laments Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM public relations and co-author of Punk Marketing. “When Drop Dead Diva comes on, I'll think, 'I know I've seen Brooke Elliott somewhere; what else was she in?' and look for something to click that will tell me. Only there's nothing to click. The TV just sits there, doing nothing. I'll start yelling terrible things at the TV that my mother would wash out my mouth with soap for saying. I'll download things and watch them on my computer, but I haven't turned on my television in three months.”

Cameron Crotty, a high tech marketer in San Francisco, says he's spoiled by the inability to augment his reality with information wherever he is.

“A few years ago while on a cross-country drive, I became briefly, irrationally, and hilariously irritated that I couldn't just point at a town on the horizon (or touch the inside of my windshield) and have a little balloon pop up above it telling me what it was called and what services it had,” says Crotty.

Note to self: Avoid going on cross-country trips with Crotty. At least, don't let him behind the wheel.

Finally, the Net has made us even more demanding consumers who want everything customized to our particular tastes, says Danny Wong, a writer and cofounder of Blank Label, a custom shirt maker (naturally).

“As the co-founder of a start-up where I can design my own dress shirt online and have it shipped to me, I want everything to be personalized--from my Pandora channels to my iTunes playlists, to customized chocolates and customized granola, even having my own underwear shipped to me in a quarterly subscription,” he writes.

Thanks, Danny. But that bit about the custom underwear? Too much information. There are some things we prefer to keep analog, if you know what we mean.

Nearly all of Contributing Editor Dan Tynan's devices are smarter than he is. Catch his brand of sophomoric snark on eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) and follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech.

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