When Technology Gets In The Way

Clemens Vaster wrote a very good “Internet of Things” article the other day. You can read it here. His definition is the right start…”a sort of visionary lighthouse, the interconnection of sensors and physical devices of all kinds into a network much like the Internet, in order to allow for gaining new insights about and allow new automated interaction with the physical world.”

However, there comes a point at which gaining new insights and automating interactions that you really aren’t doing anyone any favors. In fact, you can get in the way and destroy an otherwise sterling reputation. I recently experienced this at Walt Disney World with their new “Magic Bands”, Resort refillable mugs and their FastPass+ reservations system. Let me explain…

Let me preface this by saying we are very fond of the Mouse and WDW had been one of the best vacation spots we have experienced. This is not meant to be a complaint or rant against them, but rather a case study of when technology can actually impede service. Technology should never just replace an interaction without somehow enhancing it.

Not so magic “Magic Bands”

MagicBandLet me start with, the wonderfully annoying “Magic Bands”.  Billed as “Your Key to a More Carefree Visit” let me tell you how well they really worked.

First, we check into our hotel. Now because we have seven people in our family, we needed to get two rooms. This is not a common thing apparently, and the front desk doesn’t know how to handle this. We waited twenty minutes for the clerk and the manager to figure out how to code the bands to our room. So we walk the 1500 steps to our room (according to my fitness device) to find that only two of the bands open both rooms (the kids bands of course). Three of the bands only open one of the two doors and wouldn’t you know…my wife’s band doesn’t work on either room (as well as another one of the kids). This doesn’t sit well with mom, so I head back to the front counter with the incorrect bands to fix the problem…no, wait…we need all of the bands because the rooms had to be reset. Now, after thirty-five minutes when we get the bands back, we are given explicit instructions…”with each band, open room 420 first and then you can open room 421 second…then everything will work. If this doesn’t work, we’re going to have to call in the IT guys.” Nope! We went back and each of us tried only room 420…only five of the seven bands worked. Next we went to room 421…only four bands worked here. We only had two bands that could get in both rooms.

Forget it…I can get in my rooms, I’m not going to go spend another half hour to figure this out. Why can’t it be simple like the cards I use to get in my room at every other hotel I have stayed at this year?

Refillable (in a bit) Mugs

WP_20150527_001Second, the Resort Refillable mugs. This one didn’t really bother me, but my kids were frustrated to no end. Here’s the idea…you buy a mug for $15 and you get unlimited drink refills the entire time of your stay at the Disney Resort. Now apparently, Disney felt that people were bringing back old mugs and gaming the system. Technology to the rescue. Embed an RFID chip in the bottom of the cup that has to be scanned at the dispenser every time you want a refill. So this solves two problems…people stealing drinks and now we can tell which dispensers are being used, what time of day we are dispensing, and which guests are heavy drinkers. (Maybe someday, they will even limit your intake of the high calorie sodas for your health.)

To start things off, when we first got the mugs, one of them said we had to wait 10 minutes before filling it. Really? We just bought it with our meal and we have to wait to use it. Now to be fair, the cashier was happy to replace it, but I can’t see a 10 minute scenario.

Next, my kids love being able to dispense their own pop. They mix and match and mush the colors all together until they have something akin to “Freckle Juice” (read the book if you don’t remember what when in to that concoction). When I was a kid, it was called a “suicide”. It’s fun, and the kids rarely get to do it. Here’s where Disney let technology get in the way…the drink dispensers only fill the cup once every two minutes. So the kids would pick drink one, and then when they moved to drink flavor two, they would be told…”Wait two minutes”.  That time may get longer the more refills I get. Needless to say, the kids were completely bummed that every time they wanted to switch drinks, they had to wait two minutes for their cup to “re-enable” the dispenser and get the next flavor.

Ultimately, we probably got $3 worth of soda out of a $75 payment for mugs. Guess that was a win for Disney.

FastPass+ (I just want regular FastPass back, thank you)

FASTPASS+Third, the FastPass+ reservation system. I didn’t know whether to start with this one or end with it. Aside from meal reservations at the popular restaurants, this is one of the first things you do…well now anyway. You “get to” pick your rides sixty days in advance of getting there. In a way, this is great for WDW…they get to know who is coming to what parks based on where they are getting their FastPass+ tickets. Oh, and you can only select one park a day for those tickets. You can get up to three FP+ selections for each day…but only one of them will be for a “Premium” attraction. That’s right…no FP+ for both Test Track and Soarin’ on the same day (well, at least not until you use up all three of your FP+ selections).

Here’s the other thing…the weather forecast often dictated what park we were going to attend. However, if you don’t select your FP+ tickets in advance, you may not have any choice come the day you visit the parks. I don’t know whether they hold any back for people who aren’t staying on property, but it would seem that since the “Premium” attractions were not available for me six weeks out, they weren’t available when you showed up that day either.

All this great “Sign up before you come” stuff, but you still have to “mad dash (please no running)…rush” to the Jedi Training Academy! Why couldn’t this be a FastPass+ attraction? Oh wait, it’s because you have to figure out if the kids even want to do it and can follow directions. Really, if you don’t want Mom and Dad pulling their kids arm out of socket while dragging them to the sign up, why don’t they just have the sign up at the front of the park?

If you happen to have the latest Android or Apple device (yes, we had them, but not new enough to be supported by the apps), you could get an app to manage your FP+ selections…if not, you were relegated to using the abysmal website to spend 5 minutes just to find out when your next scheduled ride was. If the website was “experiencing technical challenges” (about 50% of the time we were there) you could go find one of the FP+ kiosk stations and wait in yet another line to work out your schedule.

Our previous three visits to Walt Disney World were on the old FastPass system…you would go to the ride and you made a choice: Do I wait for the standby line, or do I skip it and come back during the FastPass return time. Disneyland still has this process in place (as of March 2015)…how did Walt Disney World go so wrong here? Technology is clearly in the way of maintaining the magic that we were all so used to.

Here’s the thing…

When you decide that you are going to do a “technology upgrade” you have to be sure to ask the question…”Is it really better this way?” Sometimes I feel like the technologies that I use just make it more difficult for little or no additional value. Am I just resisting change? Is it really better, and I just don’t get it? Or has WDW let the technology replace the touch, and lost a little luster in the process. Leave a comment, and help me understand.