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We the people demand a Gadget Bill of Lights

Toward freedom from the tyranny of overlighting

By Mike Elgan
May 11, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - 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.

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