Technology and shabbat

Technology and jewish life by Manfred Gerstenfeld and Avraham Wyler interestingly describes how the development of new technologies has brought with it many challenges and decisions on several aspects of jewish life such as Shabbat observance. I have always been intrigued by how technologies or systems can cause challenges or how these problems can be circunvented by deep user-centered design, for example:

Many hotels have entrance doors controlled by an electronic eye and doors to rooms that can only be opened by electronic keys. Some Israeli hotels have two locks on their doors, one electronic and one regular, the latter for use on Shabbat by the Orthodox. For security reasons, hotels worldwide are increasingly making access to their stairways difficult, and alarms are often set up against entry so that they have come to be used almost exclusively as emergency exits. (...) Modern technology has made it possible for observant Jews in Israel to live in high-rise buildings whose higher floors have formerly been inaccessible to them on Shabbat, as they do not use regular elevators. Many hotels and high-rise buildings with Orthodox inhabitants have a special preset elevator that is halakhically permitted for use on Shabbat.

Also of interest, the discussion about what can be accepted or not:

Some products address extreme or unique situations. One halakhic technology institute constructed a telephone that enabled an Israeli ambassador to use the phone on Shabbat. In the Israeli army a special pen is used by observant soldiers on Shabbat, whose ink-mark fades away after a certain period of time. Therefore their use is not considered a form of the writing that is forbidden on Shabbat. These pens are also used in hospitals.

Why do I blog this? the design of technologies that one can possibly use on shabbat or the discussion of what should not be used is very interesting IMO in terms of user-centered design and as a critical reflection of the articulation between humans and technology. Besides, it's also a pertinent confrontation to a different way to think about technologies and their characteristics.