Exploding hoverboards mar Christmas tech fever

Hover and done with: The hoverboard craze ended almost as soon as it began. Can it start again?

Humans are irresistibly drawn to the latest gadgets and inventions — especially at Christmas. But they often disappoint. Is it time to focus on simpler (and more reliable) pleasures?

The future wasn’t meant to look like this.

In the 1989 film Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly travels in time to October 2015, where he finds people gliding around on hoverboards. Fast forward 26 years to the real 2015, and sci-fi has become reality – sort of. Hoverboards now exist, but they do not quite hover, and they come with safety hazards.

Last October, it looked as if this year’s Christmas craze had arrived. Shops began stocking ‘hoverboards’ – actually motorized platforms on wheels, steered by rubber footpads. They were a hit: around 500,000 were sold in the UK alone, despite costing between £500 and £1,500. Everyone from Justin Bieber to Mario Balotelli had one.

But things soon went wrong. In the UK, the first blow to the gadget came in October, when the police warned users that the boards cannot be used on roads or pavements.

The second blow was literally that: the boards began to blow up. One spontaneously combusted in a mall in Washington State, terrifying shoppers; another caught fire in a house in Kent, causing damage worth £25,000. Dozens of customers reported similar problems.

It turned out that many of the gadgets, which had been cheaply manufactured in China, had faulty plugs, cables and batteries. Retailers stopped selling them, and Amazon warned buyers to throw theirs away. The fad has turned into a fiasco.

Tech fans need not despair, however. Also in October, an American company called Arx Pax unveiled the Hendo Hoverboard. This one actually does float (around one inch off the ground). The catch? It only works over a special magnetic copper flooring. Oh, and it costs almost £7,000.

So Back to the Future got it wrong: in 2015, hoverboards have not yet replaced bikes. Do we really need them, anyway? Or does this just go to show how obsessed we are with technology?

Back to the past?

Gadgets are now a huge part of our lives. But there is a fine line between using them and depending on them. Study after study shows that technology is taking over our lives: we microwave all our meals, see the world through a camera lens, and prefer Facebook chats to actual conversations. This lifestyle is harming our social skills, cooking abilities, attention spans and more.

Let’s get some perspective, say others. For every silly gadget, there is a genuinely useful innovation. Take the Hendo Hoverboard: Arx Pax want to use the magnetic technology behind it to levitate buildings, protecting them from earthquakes. People have always been suspicious of progress – even Socrates said that the invention of writing would ruin people’s memory – but without it, we would still live in caves. Technology is not an obsession – it is a necessity.

You Decide

  1. Would you like a hoverboard for Christmas? (One that is not faulty, of course.)
  2. Does technology play too big a role in our lives?

Activities

  1. Design a gadget that would make a good Christmas present.
  2. What do you think is the most useful gadget of the last ten years? Explain your choice in a short presentation.

Some People Say...

“Our technology has exceeded our humanity.”

Albert Einstein

What do you think?

Q & A

I like using my smartphone, but I’m not addicted.
People use their gadgets in different ways. But for many, technology can become a real problem. A study of office workers in the UK, for example, showed that two thirds continue to send emails from their phones outside work hours. The study labelled them ‘screen slaves’.
Can’t these people just put away their phones?
It is not always clear at which point overuse turns into addiction. But if it does, the whole point is that the person cannot simply choose to break away – gadget addiction can be seen as a medical condition, like alcoholism or a drug habit. In Finland, computer addiction became an acceptable excuse for leaving military service in 2005.

Word Watch

Pavements
This is due to a law that was passed in 1835! The Highway Act forbids people to use powered vehicles on the pavement. At the time, they probably did not have hoverboards in mind.
Spontaneously combusted
Spontaneous combustion is the technical term for when something sets on fire without any apparent cause.
Retailers
People or businesses that sell goods or products to the public.
Fiasco
A huge and embarrassing failure.
Socrates
Socrates was a famous Greek philosopher who lived in Athens in the 5th century BC. He was interested in the moral behaviour of humans, and the ways in which we experience and understand the world. Because writing means we do not have to memorise things, he argued, it causes our power of memory to deteriorate.

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