Technology is wonderful... until it fails us

07 Jan 2011


“Sorry I’m late boss, the alarm clock didn’t go off this morning!”

It’s a familiar line trotted out in offices across the country every day, usually about 20 minutes after someone was supposed to arrive for their shift.

And while this well-worn excuse might earn you a reprieve a couple of times, it’s ordinarily met with a steely, sceptical stare from the boss.

So it’s hard not to feel sympathy for iPhone 4 users who relied on their mobile phones’ alarm clock function at the start of 2011, only to receive a timely reminder that even the best technology can let us down.

Apple insisted the problem would right itself come January 3, but users who set a single alarm were not awoken from their slumber. Some iPhone 4 owners worked around the problem by setting a recurring alarm and cancelled it once the alarm had gone off for the first time.

The simple and unglamorous wind-up alarm clock would never suffer from such a problem… well, unless you forgot to wind it up or got confused when winding the tiny hand around the clock face.

So if this alarming problem has been something of a wake-up call for Apple supremo Steve Jobs, at least he can always look to old foe Bill Gates for comfort. Bill is probably still having nightmares about showing off Windows 98’s support for Plug and Play devices on a desktop PC at a conference, only to be faced with the ‘blue screen of death’ in front of the assembled experts. Oh dear.

The iPhone 4 is not the only modern device to struggle with the most basic of electronic functions, keeping track of the date. Many PS3 owners were unable to play and some had their trophy collections corrupted on March 1 last year. The PS3 software mistakenly believed 2010 to be a leap year and so displayed the date as February 29. Ooops!

Getting the right time isn’t always as easy as it seems

PS3 gamers around the globe had to wait until March 2 when their console ticked over to March 1 and then manually adjust the console’s clock. It’s not a problem that has ever surfaced in a game of chess or backgammon, but then they don’t offer motion sensor gaming do they…

Just when techno wizards thought it was safe to look a little further through their electronic calendar, a new threat has arrived on the horizon. The Millennium Bug came and went without much incident, but some scaremongers are suggesting that the so-called Year 2038 Bug could send computer programs crashing.

Many computer programs tell the time by counting the seconds from January 1, 1970. However, this system can’t count beyond January 19, 2038 and so will ‘wrap around’ and go into negative numbers, displaying a date in 1901.

Aeroplanes, hybrid cars and electric vehicles are among the devices which some have warned could be hit by the bug.

With this “meltdown” date set still some decades away, it’s a bit too early to panic. Let the technology geniuses get their thinking caps on and sort out the problems. We won’t be stocking up on tinned food after what happened (or didn’t) in January 2000.

So while all these glitches and mishaps might be a bit annoying, the rarity of such problems is a testament to the skill and brainpower of modern tech designers. The gear they produce is usually so bulletproof we don’t worry about uploading much of our lives to their silicon brains – from address books, phone numbers, diaries and friends’ birthdays to our safety and survival in planes, trains and automobiles.

A wind-up alarm clock might not be vulnerable to programming errors, but try carrying it around in your pocket all day. PS3 owners might mourn one lost day of gameplay and any trophies which went missing during it, but playing Call of Duty: Black Ops online is considerably more fun than Pong.

So regardless of all the problems, with optimism in my heart, I will set the alarm on my iPhone 4 and trust it to wake me up on time. After all, it’s much more reliable than I will ever be.

Have you experienced problems with your iPhone 4’s alarm clock function or have other pieces of technology failed you? Comment below…