Plugging Away

It is a sign of our times that anytime we travel somewhere we have to take a hundred or so cables and chargers for all of the different gadgets we have to keep powered throughout the day. I’ve had to make checklists for the cables just to make sure I am taking the right kind; they are as varied as insects.

A got tired of long tangles of cables some time ago, so I bought myself a charging station that sits by my desk. It’s a small form-factor, and can charge up to 5 devices at once. It uses short, 6-inch cables, and came with a dozen or so, of varying varieties. I like this because it is easy to pack. The cables fit into a sandwich bag and don’t get all tangled. I brought it with me on our recent trip only to discover, after arriving at our destination that I forgot the most important cable of all: the one the connects the charging station to the outlet in the wall.

We have many more cables than we do devices, and yet somehow, I can never find the cable that I need when I need it. These cables all have technical name, and technical though I am, I can never remember which cable is called what. Instead, I use my own names for them. “Do you have an iPhone cable in that bag?” I’ll ask Kelly. Or she will hear me grumble as I rummage through my backpack, “I can’t find the Kindle cable.”

You can’t rely on hotels. Some of them have USB-ports by the bedside, or at what passes for a desk in the room. Many don’t. I understand this. I used to think new houses should come with at least two USB charging ports at each electrical outlet, but I realized that they’d be useless within a few years. The standards change too frequently. Just as soon as I figure out which cable is for what, Apple comes out with a new form, and I am left with a pile of mental and physical junk.

I’m not sure why this is. Appliance technology has changed dramatically over the decades, as has televisions, computers, and light bulbs, but they all still manage to use the same kind of plug that has been used for as far pack as I can remember. What is so special about our phones and Kindles and iPads that require a new kind of plug every few years?

There is, of course, “wireless” charging, but it is something of a misnomer. Kelly recently got some wireless earbuds and they can be charged at a wireless charging station. Indeed, you can set the device down on a charging pad and it will charge. But the charging pad itself has a wire that plugs into an outlet, so I’m not sure that can really be called wireless charging.

I’m not sure why wireless charging isn’t being explored as the next big technology breakthrough. I think of how often I trip over the wires that snake through our house. It would be nice not to feel so clumsy. It would be nice not to have to bring dozens of cables and charger with us on a trip, if for no other reason than it would save me the embarrassment and shame of forgetting the most important cable of all.

About Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

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