David Cogswell | December 08, 2015 5:00 AM ET
Maybe he was just jealous, but my friend sounded scornful of my traveling lifestyle when he said, “At least I don’t spend most of my time in a room where the lamp is bolted onto the table.”
I can’t remember when I last stayed in a room where the lamp was actually fastened to the table, but unfortunately I do seem to spend a lot of time in rooms where I don’t know how to work things. At those moments I feel like an urban barbarian, someone who was plopped down into the civilized world with no understanding of how modern technology works.
The other day I checked into a room in which all the lights were controlled by two control panels, one by the front door and one by the bed. The lights didn’t have individual switches. The lighting for the whole room had to be controlled through one of those two panels.
There were many lights in the room in several different groupings. There was a row of spots in the ceiling over the head of the bed. There were reading lights on the end tables on both sides of the bed. There was a row of lights in the ceiling in the middle of the main sleeping area and some more over the desk opposite the bed. There were lights over the entrance and closets by the door and some over the bathroom/shower area.
All the lights were controlled by four settings on the either of the two control panels. The four buttons were labeled “welcome,” “leisure,” “work” and “master.” Each of those buttons gave you a different combination of lights on and lights off.
By the titles it appeared that the control panel was designed to offer four different lighting constellations, each labeled by a different name indicating that it would be appropriate for a specific kind of activity. But when trying them it seemed that there were more than four possible combinations, and the results varied depending on which order you pressed the buttons.
You couldn’t just walk up to a light you wanted on and turn it on. You had to figure out which combination of settings on the panel turned on the lights you wanted on and turned off the ones you wanted off. And of course there were no instructions on the panel.
I assumed the master switch would turn off all the lights if you wanted to make the room dark for sleep. But it didn’t. Or at least it didn’t always. I stood there like an idiot pushing the four buttons in every combination I could think of and getting a series of different lighting configurations, but never able to completely darken the room. It seemed like there was a sadistic demon in the box.
Hotels love to offer the latest technological toys and innovations. But sometimes when you’ve checked into a room exhausted after a day of travel and have to get up early the next morning for a big day, you just want to have things such as the lighting, temperature control and music just the way you want them and to be able to do it easily with on/off switches. And often I find that I don’t know how to achieve that.
If you call the front desk for assistance, they will most likely offer to send someone to your room. Then you have to sit there waiting for the knock on the door, for the attendant to come in and show you how stupid you are, set it up the way you ask, show you how to do it for yourself, and then you can go to sleep.
For all the talk about “user friendly” consumer goods, digital technology tends to be opaque. It’s the black box effect. You have a small number of buttons and you get different results by pushing different combinations in different order.
The system reads a touch and release of the button as one message and holding it down as another. Holding one button down while you press another will give you a different result than pushing the buttons individually.
There can be many possible combinations offered by a few buttons, but it’s up to you to find them by experimentation. That’s what they call “intuitive.” There are usually no instructions, so you just poke around like a chimpanzee until you get the result you are looking for, if you are lucky.
When I found that the master could not be relied on to darken the room I just kept pushing all the buttons in varying order until at a certain moment I found that I had achieved my result. The room was dark. I backed away from the panel carefully.
And then there was the clock radio by the bed.
It had a dock for the iPod on top. The instructions were simple. They said to dial back the little brace, push the iPod onto the connector and then push the brace back up to support it. Then simply push the “on” switch to start the music. Sounded simple enough. The trouble was pressing the “on” switch didn’t actually start the music. Or sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t. You could try taking the iPod off the connector and putting it back again. That might work. Or it might not.
I’ve heard a saying that doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. But with digital technology sometimes you do the same thing again and you do get a different result. So I guess I’ll toss out that axiom.
Again, with the music as with the lights I just kept trying different things until I got what I wanted and then left it alone.
In that room the temperature control was perfect and understandable. It was mounted in an obvious place and its operation was simple and direct. You push the up arrow to make it warmer and the down arrow to make it cooler.
That’s the way I like it. No funny business.
More by David Cogswell
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Latest Travel News
Hotel & Resort
Destination & Tourism
Cruise Line & Cruise Ship
Features & Advice
Airlines & Airports
Destination & Tourism