Me and Automatic Doors

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Someone once predicted that automatic doors would never catch on.

Oh, yeah, that someone was me.

Automatic Doors

It just proves how awful is my track record as a predictor of trends and technology.

I don’t recall where or when I saw my first automatic sliding door. Hospital? Library? Grocery store?

Being a kid, though, I remember the feeling of wonder it evoked. Magic! I thought of Ali Baba’s cave and the “open sesame” command that allowed ingress.

That’s when my skepticism kicked in. How well I recall thinking (and possibly saying aloud) that the trick would never be practical.

A fun gimmick? Sure, but to me it seemed there were way too many moving parts. Too many gears to rust, connectors to corrode, circuits to short. Pebbles would get into the tracks and derail a wheel. Dead bugs would gum up the delicate innards. Repairs would cost more than the door itself.

How wrong I was! Since that moment, I’ve walked through thousands of automatic sliding doors. There are some buildings where I’ve used the same magic portal for decades with nary a hitch.

Only once have I seen such a door needing repair. In that single incident, the technician casually lifted the door back into its groove, from which it never again strayed.

Automatic doors are only one among many predictions — social, historical, technical — of mine that have crashed and burned. I haven’t always been wrong. But sometimes it seems I’d have done better by throwing darts.

For human use, the first automatic sliding door was invented in 1954. The first real-world installation, based on a mat actuator, came in 1960. That’s the year I turned 11, but of course I probably was older during the encounter I’ve described.

My horrendously bad track record as a seer isn’t entirely on account of curmudgeonly pessimism. Everyone (I once assumed) would eventually share my enthusiasm for sporks. I figured Google Glass, or something similar, would quickly conquer the world. And I believed that the best human chess player would always best the most advanced chess computer.

Hmm. Is that last example a case of optimism or pessimism? Maybe a bit of both.

How about you? Have you ever made a dogmatic prediction that came up embarrassingly short? Or that proved spookily prescient? Please leave your own story in the comments.


Me and Automatic Doors — 8 Comments

  1. And then there are those of us who never asked about the magic.

    In 1954 I was 20, in college, in po-dunk town in Indiana. No money, therefore, no trips to centers that might have one of those new-fangled auitomated doors. I had grown up with an interiority complex so that any ignorance I had of worldly sophistication had to be hidden. So I seldom asked questions, just walked through doors that opened before me, knowing that the real world was different in numerous ways than the world that I lived in. I think I recall some conversations with my dad when he mentioned lights that responded to some interference in their beam and that response would trigger something else happening, etc. I was a girl, which added to the complex, that I wouldn’t be expected to understand technical, industrial, mechanical things.

    I really enjoyed your recall of your childhood curiosity.

    • Thanks so much, Loree, for sharing this part of the start of your journey. I’m happy that my reflections triggered some of your own.

      I say “part of the start” because you left out the rest of your story: I happen to know you grew into a strong, fiercely inquisitive woman who takes the world into her own hands, on her own terms, and makes things happen. You’re walking proof that we needn’t be prisoners of our early history.

  2. My first prediction is hardly a prediction because gadgets like that had appeared before, although without the full integration that the iPhone had. There were portable digital assistants (PDAs), there was the iPod… In a marketing project in grad school, in 2004, I “predicted” that there will be a device that will play music, video, act as a PDA and also be a phone. Mind you they were not all integrated at that time. Lo and behold in 2006, the iPhone.
    Also, Google voice search (or Siri for that matter)… In my interview with Google in 2005 (I didn’t get the job…after 6 six interviews) they asked what is one thing you would make at Google. So I said, a voice based search. This was 2005, pre iPhone. You couldn’t whip out a phone and start googling things when you were out. But you had mobile phones. So I suggested that Google could have a 1-800-number you could call. Then it would prompt you to ask whatever and the computer would parse your voice input and do a search and then relay the results to you over the phone.

      • I’ve edited your comment to insert your clarifying tweak, Dev. Thanks! P.S.: I think there is a way you can edit your own comments, even after posting them — just as there is on some social media sites like Google Plus. Or perhaps you have to post originally through your account, then edit by logging in the same way. Otherwise, anyone (I suppose) could vandalize anyone else’s comments.

        Be that as it may, I realize most readers don’t know about after-the-fact editing of comments. So if any reader makes an obvious typo (e.g. spelling), I try to correct it before approving the comment for publication. But I’ll never knowingly change the intended meaning of what someone has written.

    • Those both were insightful predictions, Dev. Google’s voice search seems the best so far, though Apple and Microsoft are trying to catch up.

      Before voice search, Google had a feature I liked, called SMS Search. You would text your query to a Google special number. They would text back information on it. The benefit: it worked with any phone that could handle texting, including older flip phones! No smartphone or touchscreen needed.

      Almost no one seemed to know about this service. I was an evangelist for it. 😀 I loved to startle folks by whipping out my flip phone and looking up the definition of a word, or a weather forecast, or a stock price, or a news event. But mostly I used it to access Google Maps: I drove a lot in those days, often to strange addresses, sometimes at night in unfamiliar territory. There were deadlines and I could not afford to get lost. Had no GPS gadget back then. So I’d text Google my destination and current location; Google would send me back 20 or 30 texts with step by step driving directions. Always worked like magic!

      Google dropped this feature in 2013, I guess because smartphones and voice search made it obsolete. But today there are similar services like 4INFO and TXTWEB that do even more. Or so I hear; I haven’t used them since voice search took over.

      • I have used Google’s text service actually. Their regular stuff was okay but the driving directions wasn’t very convenient, especially when you are driving and the texts showed up, sometimes not in order!! So you’d get 6, 7, 8 then 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.. Not only were you texting while driving, but also you are going back and forth on the damned texts to read them in order. I got seriously delayed once using that service. Texting directions was the devil’s own idea, 😁especially when there was no way to ensure the texts would appear in proper order.

        • Dev, I agree that out-of-order texts are far from ideal. However, they at least were numbered, quite conspicuously, by Google. After reading #7, I could see at a glance which was #8 and move on to it.

          Personally, I wasn’t “texting while driving” when I used this system. I’d be parked while requesting the driving directions. Then I’d read them while still parked. Sometimes I’d study a map and perhaps make notes on it. If I needed to consult the directions while traveling, I’d pull over long enough to do so. Occasionally I’d glance at them while stopped at a traffic light or stop sign, assuming no other traffic was around. Safety was (and is) my preoccupation when driving.

          The system was in many ways frustrating, just as you describe. But not nearly as frustrating as getting lost! Would I have preferred a MapQuest printout? You bet!

          Google, I imagine, realized the drawbacks to this service. Now that we have smartphones with touchscreens, there’s no need for the service. That’s why it’s gone. I doubt many of us will miss it. (And I’m baffled as to why other companies have tried to replicate and build on that system, now that Google is out of the game.)

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