We the people demand a Gadget Bill of Lights

Toward freedom from the tyranny of overlighting

Sometimes I think the companies that make cell phones, gadgets and PCs never actually use their own products. In particular, one of my biggest complaints is how these vendors put annoying little lights on everything but fail to illuminate their products in ways that are actually useful.

For example, I had a love-hate relationship with my Palm Treo (now replaced by a BlackBerry Pearl). Despite general design ingenuity, it seems that nobody at Palm ever considered the effect of that hideous green light on the Treo. When I would go to bed, the entire room would flash: GREEN! GREEN! GREEN! Turning the phone upside down reduced, but didn't stop, the annoying assault. I typically would have to bury the device under something or hide it in a drawer. Annoyingly, nobody knows what that green light is for, and even worse, you can't turn it off.

My BlackBerry Pearl is better. The flashing red light is at least explicable -- it means I have unopened e-mail or a pending calendar item. However, I get e-mail every night. Even though I silence my phone, it's just a matter of time before the room starts blinking: RED! RED! RED!

My PC and other computing equipment make my office look like a jet cockpit. I have two LCD monitors, each of which has two indicator lights that flash even when the PC is turned off. The attached sound control has a light on it. My keyboard has multiple lights. The power cord has lights, the printer has lights, and the power button is illuminated. My cable modem and Linksys router flash like crazy all the time. Together, these useless lights create a visual cacophony of blinking, multicolored lights that make me feel like I'm taking part in a NASA stress test for astronaut candidates.

Worse, my PC, a Dell XPS system, features a decorative blue light in the front bright enough to actually read by. Dell's XPS gaming laptops cast the most hideous red lights through vents, which you can dim but not turn off. Clearly, the vendor thinks bright, decorative lights are cool. You know what would be cool? Hire a case designer with good taste. That would be cool.

It's only a matter of time before Apple produces a TV ad showing the guy who says, "Hi, I'm a PC" covered in Christmas lights.

My laptop is no better. It has lights telling me if it's plugged in, both on the power cord and the laptop itself. Other lights display equally vital information about the laptop's current state. All these lights on all these gadgets aren't just passive indicator lights. They aggressively cast an actual beam of light that, in the dark, lights up nearby walls or even whole rooms.

While most devices have "nag" lights that actively annoy and fail to inform, many gadgets often fail to provide lights where I really need them. For example, most laptops don't have a light that illuminates the keyboard. So when I'm on an airplane with my laptop, I have to partly close the screen and use the display light to see the keys. Sometimes I use my desktop PC in a dimly light room, and when I do, I'd love to have a light on the keyboard so it's easier to use.

People use all kinds of devices in the dark. For example, digital cameras have automated, intelligent features for taking better pictures in darkness. Yet there's often no way to activate those features without a separate flashlight.

The list of light-related annoyances goes on and on. Enough! It's time we consumers demand that gadget designers and manufacturers do something about where, how and why they put lights all over the devices that we bring into our homes and that affect the aesthetic quality of our lives.

If you agree -- if you're annoyed by the placement, intensity or lack of user-controllability of lights on your electronics -- send the following Gadget Bill of Lights directly to every manufacturer that tramples our right to own gadgets that don't annoy us:

The Gadget Bill of Lights

Gadget and PC makers: If you want happy users and more repeat business, heed our call and stop torturing us with bad decisions about the lights on your products. Here is our Gadget Bill of Lights:

I. The right of the people to get a good night's sleep shall not be infringed. Gadget makers shall make no device that lights up any dark room with flashing nag lights.

II. Excessive LED brightness, deemed cruel and unusual punishment, shall not be inflicted when dimmer lights will do.

III. Gadget makers shall make no device that nags the people for unknown reasons. If a phone flashes at us, we have the right to know why.

IV. No indicator light shall illuminate our houses or places of business without the consent of the owner. We seek the option to turn lights off.

V. An aesthetically pleasing industrial design, being necessary for the placement of electronics in various locations in our homes, shall not include inextinguishable decorative lighting. (We're talking to YOU, Dell.)

VI. In all scenarios in which products may be used in partial or total darkness, the people shall enjoy the right to optional lighting that enables users to locate various controls, keys and buttons.

Mike Elgan is a technology writer and former editor of Windows Magazine. He can be reached at mike.elgan@elgan.com or his blog: http://therawfeed.com.

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