In Defense of Wires
An essay in which I expound upon the benefits of the lowly wire and resist the temptation to wireless-ize the world of personal gadetry.
This weekend, in a futile effort to preserve my back and wrists, I've retooled my home office by including picking up a new mouse and keyboard. The only thing available at the local store was wireless, either bluetooth or using a proprietary dongle. While reasonably nice to use from an ergonomic standpoint they immediately began having interference with my network, including dropping or repeating keystrokes and mouse clicks. After 2 days of frustration I returned them. Then, after searching 3 stores to find a decent wired keyboard, I gave up in frustration. Wireless all.
Wireless sounds like a good idea. The promise of "No wires!" means no tangles, no restriction of movement, and no ugly cords all over your desk. This is especially attractive when you use a laptop 100% as I do. The last thing I want on an airplane is a wire to get tangled up in the seat. The wireless devices all look quite sleek and futuristic. And the accuracy of modern laser trackers on virtually all surfaces is quite simply astounding. Wireless promises a trouble free computing experience.
For all of the good, there's actually a lot of problems with wireless devices. First: all wireless gadgets must have batteries, which means one more thing to monitor, charge, and replace. Next, the minute you have an active network over the air you have to worry about eavesdropping. That means security layers, network protocols, and the bane of bluetooth: pairing. The act of connecting two devices which are a scant 2 feet from each other simply isn't worth the pain. I returned three bluetooth headsets over the years due to pairing issues. Once you get your device set up and authenticated you still must worry about interference. I found that my keyboard would drop key presses if I was doing my hourly backup over the network at the same time. Not doing two things at once is the opposite of progress. And finally, to add insult to injury, wireless devices cost more. Now let's consider the alternative.
Wires are simple to use. You attach a wired mouse to your computer by plugging it in. Through the magic of USB, the device is immediately detected and the driver installed. Plus you get power for free, so no more batteries to replace. Nothing goes over the air you don't have to worry about eavesdropping, so no security system and no pairing. No RF transmission means no interference with the 4.8 billion other wireless devices in my house. In addition to the security aspects wires are usually faster and cheaper. USB 2.0 is far faster than even the latest Wifi N standards, which I suspect is why Apple doesn't sync the iPhone over wifi. And the cost of course is fantastic. No extra batteries and radio transmitters makes any gadget cheaper to produce. The costs of wireless (financial, technical, and mental) are worth the benefits in some situations. But for lots of things: just go with a wire. It works.
Posted October 19th, 2009