Technology can change the world for the better – or make it weirdly complicated, as I learned from my parents’ new car and an attempt to quench my thirst

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We need vaccines and cheap, sustainable fuel – not unnecessary technology like no-touch taps. Photograph: Cultura RM Exclusive/Nancy Honey/Getty Images/Cultura RF

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We need vaccines and cheap, sustainable fuel – not unnecessary technology like no-touch taps. Photograph: Cultura RM Exclusive/Nancy Honey/Getty Images/Cultura RF

I keep hearing that we’re reassessing everything about our lives now there’s a ghost of a chance that we’re coming out of the other side of the pandemic. May I suggest something pertaining to the march of technological progress: please can all of you who are engaged in the invention of things restrict yourselves to inventing stuff that we actually need? You know, things like vaccines and batteries that actually last a long time, and sustainable sources of cheap fuel. Stop wasting your time on things we neither needed nor asked for and which actually make things harder rather than easier.

Take the boots, or tailgates, of cars. We used to click them open manually without any effort or fuss. A little click and up they went; a little push down and with a clunk they closed. Then we were given switches to open tailgates remotely. OK then, if you must. Now there are buttons that you simply must press to get them to close on their own, rather than push them down manually. Why?

I bought my parents a new car. The tailgate opened (automatically) too high for their garage. Thanks to the march of useless technology, there was a facility to control the height to which it rose. My dad made the necessary adjustments and brought my mum out to show her. He pressed the button and with an awful crash the tailgate of their new car smashed into the ceiling of the garage, knackering the two-day-old bodywork. I got it fixed. A month later I was reversing the same car into their garage when I inadvertently sat on the remote for their automatic garage door. Down it came, smashing up the tailgate for a second time. I got it fixed.

Another bugbear is no-touch taps, the ones that deliver water without the need to lay hands on them. In a public place I get the logic regarding hygiene and so on, but, as with all tech, it’s also just one more thing to go wrong. There’s a new kitchen-type area near my studio at the BBC. In a five-minute break during my three-hour radio show, I sprinted out to fill my water bottle. I held it beneath the automatic tap. Nothing. I moved it around. Nothing. I touched the tap. Nothing. I danced around frantically on the spot trying to wake it up. Nothing. I returned to my studio with an empty bottle, a parched throat and an elevated heart rate.

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