John Perry, Ph.D.

John Perry Ph.D.

Structured Procrastination

A Plea for Knobs

Looking for something to hold on to.

Posted Jul 26, 2012

I miss knobs.

The first car I owned was a (used) 1930 Model A.  It didn’t have a radio, so the issue of knobs did not arise.   Since then, almost every car I’ve owned has had two knobs, one to turn the radio on and adjust the volume, the other to tune in stations.  This is a great system.  If you like to turn on and tune in the radio without taking your eyes off the road, as I do, it is simple.  You leave your left hand on the wheel, your eyes on the road, and extend your right hand over until you find the on off knob, and turn it on.  Then you reach a little further, and turn the tuning knob slowly, stopping when you get to a station, turning it further if you don’t like it (searching and scanning, as we now say).  Simple and elegant.

The exception is the car I have now, a 2002 Ford.  It has the left knob, for off and on and volume.  But the right knob has been replaced by buttons for searching and scanning.  They have no particular feel to them.  Even if you have memorized where they are, you have to take your eyes off the road to locate them.  And if you haven’t memorized where they are, good luck.  The labels are too small for any person with normal eyesight to read, without bending over and staring at the dashboard, which isn’t very safe.

Since 2002 things have just gotten worse, as I know from rental cars.  Buttons everywhere, and not a knob to turn. Buttons are fine, if they are like the big ones we used to have between our two knobs, pre-set for favorite stations.  You could find them easily, and use them if you wanted.  But a panel of small non-descript buttons, outfitted with labels you have to bend over and stare at for a while to begin to fathom, is stupid and dangerous. Whoever thought up this system should be flogged.

Radio knobs aren’t the biggest loss.  I can lie in my bathtub, reading a book, and adjust the volume of hot and cold water with my toes.  Wonderful.  I can do that because I have a very old-fashioned bathtub, with an old-fashioned faucet, controlled by two wonderful knobs.  The left is for hot, the right is for cold.  This system was probably invented by Aristotle, and it worked just fine until about thirty years ago, when something infinitely inferior replaced it.

Almost any hotel or motel, or any house built or remodeled after 1980, has an ugly stick protruding from the wall above faucet, rather than two knobs.  You can pull the stick and twist it in various ways to make the water hotter or colder, the stream stronger or weaker.  You can’t reach this device with your toes, so if you want to heat up or cool down your bath while lying down you’re out of luck.  It might not be so bad for taking a shower, except you usually can’t figure out which direction is hot and which is cold, or how far it goes before it gets too hot or too cold, before you have scalded yourself at least once.

Bring back knobs!

About the Author

John Perry, Ph.D.

John Perry, Ph.D. is Henry Waldgrave Stuart Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Stanford University.

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