I was used to writing about how DSP chips could be used to find signals
buried in noise for military purposes or to enable complex
communications algorithms to run, or as the basis of image compression
for video transmission. This audio DSP just seemed trivial to me.
pointed out that while delivering the sound of a movie faithfully was
clearly a good thing, altering it on play back seemed pointless and not
the sort of thing most people would be interested in. The salesman came
back to me that it did not matter whether something was a good idea or
not, but only on whether people would buy it. The engineer's job was to
put such features into consumer equipment – even if they were pointless –
because the features would help the equipment sell.
salesman explained to me that consumers often buy pointless things if
they are sold well. He added that when the basic technology is pretty
much the same across competing products, having some additional feature
or check box – such as the pre-programmed cathedral reverb – could help
make the sale even it was never used subsequently.
Since then of
course consumer electronics has continued to rise in significance in the
global electronics market. Games consoles and games applications have
come and not gone. Smartphones and tablet computers are now judged,
partly on their ability to host games and social media with which people
can distract themselves.
But is that a good thing?
As I enter the Olympic park it is likely the phrase "bread and circuses" will come to mind.