How Do You Blank Your Screen?

(From a question about screen savers to musings about problems in adopting and providing radically new technology and technological improvements.)

A friend did a poll and asked "which of you use screen savers?". So far there's 4 replies and no-one has fancy animated screensavers, everyone just blanks the screen after a time. Does anyone really use animated screen savers nowadays?

I don't see a point for active animated screensavers, because:

  • Screensavers kick in when computer is unused for some time. Most likely there is no-one around to see the screensaver.
  • The ye olde miniature particle accelerators aka. CRT monitors needed a "screen saver" to prevent burn-patterns, but this is not so on modern LCD/TFT screens.
  • Active screensavers consume electricity. Electricity costs money. Thus you pay for things no-one sees, for no additional utility value.

Note: I can understand something like SETI@Home, Folding@Home and other BOINC-style projects as "screen savers", but those are not really screensavers, they are programs which run when the computer is idle from other work. There just happens to be a fancy visualization to show off what is happening. Conceptually, for a normal user, the software is easier to understand as a "screensaver".

What interested me in this question was the thought that followed afterwards: the world is big, so there are still surely people using animated screen savers. Fair enough; maybe they are around the computer but not using it, and/or think it's pretty, whatever.

Or perhaps they never even considered it. Something was necessary in the past (prevent picture burn-in), things changed (technological developments), but yet some people insist on doing things the way they've always done.

Is it because technology is sufficiently "similar" so people don't feel the need to reconsider the existing patterns of use? A screen is a screen, even if it's flatter, brighter and has a crispier image, and since I've always used the screen saver with a screen, I'll just keep on using it. Investing time and effort to re-think the patterns of use is a trade-off I as a user don't want to make.

This kind of thinking exists in many places, for example, car user interfaces: you've got a hole for the key, you've got a steering wheel, you've got pedals and you've got a gear stick. And this has been more or less unchanged for over 60 years (!). Talk about a stagnated industry. Why not just have something like a joystick with acceleration/deceleration/direction all in one control? The car would be potentially easier to drive, releasing more cognitive capabilities to observing the signs and other traffic and that way making driving safer.

Some of this sticking to the past when it comes to technology improvement is driven by risk-averseness of companies who manufacture the products. They don't want to bring something too disruptive to the market, for a perceived fear of customer rejection of the "alien technology", even if this fear would not be factual. Sometimes excessive cost is quoted - we won't see joysticks in cars because it costs so-and-so much and requires this-and-that. Well, new technology always costs a lot until competition and new technological improvements bring the price down. The thing is, this development will never happen until someone takes the first step.

Naturally, some part of this issue lies on the customers and users themselves. If people just care about the utilitarian aspects of the technology (car takes me from A to B, screen shows me computer stuff) there is little desire or need to learn new things. Even though these new things might save money/time/effort and make the use more efficient and overall make life easier.

The question I want to ask now is: to maximize the benefit of new technology, will the technology have to be sufficiently dissimilar so that people won't get stuck in the old (possibly detrimental) ways of using it, to force people to re-think their usage patterns? And if this is the case, then:

  1. How to drive adoption (user acceptance) if the technology is too different?
  2. How to ensure manufacturers (and not just startups with "nothing to lose") will be bolder and step out of their comfort zones?