All Things Techie With Huge, Unstructured, Intuitive Leaps

The Death of the On / Off Switch

I was talking to a colleague of mine and we were discussing, of all things, Bugs Bunny cartoons. In a couple of cartoons, Bugs is in a cabin with Yosemite Sam, and in one instance, there is an old style nickel plated wood stove and in another instance, there is a pot belly stove.  If you don't know what a pot belly stove looks like, here is one:

The conversation revolved around how Bugs Bunny is still popular with today's kids, and yet it was first created in 1940.  My colleague idly wondered if the kids of today know what a pot belly stove was, how it was used and what it was for.  If you are a certain age, and are a grandparent, you may remember them from cabins or cottages, but I doubt that anyone younger than 40 years old has seen one.  So the question is, can the kids of today relate to the cultural load of the concept of a pot belly stove?

The reason that I bring this up, is because the On / Off switch is going the way of the pot belly stove.  Back in the good old, primitive days, an On / Off switch was fairly mechanical. It consisted of a toggle and two contacts separated by a space. When you flipped the switch, the juice flowed and when you turned it off, the contact was broken and the current stopped flowing.

This concept carried on for a long time.  But the On / Off switch is going the way of the dodo bird. Back in the day BR (before remote), you walked over to a TV and pulled a switch to turn it on. The earliest desktop computers had a toggle switch somewhere on the side. A switch was a simple  concept to learn.  Not so any more.

Televisions for example, do not go dead when you switch them off. They have a quiescent circuit just listening for a remote signal. To turn on my iPad, you press a button and to make it work, you do a swipe on the face of it.  On my car, I no longer have to turn on headlights. When it gets dark, they turn on themselves.

With Moore's Law, where transistors are getting smaller and smaller, and smarts are built into everything, the On / Off switch is dying.  Devices will have sensors that will detect when power is needed to the main circuits and they will switch them from solid state switches or transistors. Vacuum cleaners will have motion sensors, and they will know when to turn on the sucking mechanism.  The list goes on and on. New cars detect when a key is in the pocket of the driver and you push a button. No more mechanical linkages.  I am reminded of an 80-some year old man who won an iPod at a church bazaar and didn't know what it was.  He had no inkling that it could be turned on and something so small could play music.

So one day in the future, a child will see some sort of image on an On /Off switch and wonder what it is for and why it was needed.  They will be flummoxed by it.  It's a Brave New World that is coming.  Me -- I say "Bring it on!"

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