Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ignorant and Helpless. Yep, I got a new cell phone!!

My wife and I gave each other the iphone 4S for Christmas. I have spent the past couple of weeks fiddling with this remarkable device. This is not a plug for Apple. I’m sure some of its competitors have equally amazing products. But as incredible as this thing is, it has left me feeling strangely ignorant and helpless.

The first mobile phone I ever saw was the size of a bread box and set heavily between driver and passenger in my friend Al Thomason’s truck back in the early 80’s. The receiver was tethered to the black box by a thick and very short cord. I remember thinking how cool it was that Al could make and receive calls without having to spend 10 cents at a pay-phone. Thirty years later a machine no larger than a playing card and no thicker than a slice of Wonder bread allows me to not only make and receive calls to anywhere on the planet, but also reminds me to pick up a loaf of bread at Martins on my way home from work, and if needed, it will guide me to Martin’s with turn by turn directions spoken by a silken-voiced digital-diva named Siri. I can have a conversation with my son in Nashville in “facetime” and his face pops up on the screen. I remind him that by the looks of it, he needs to clean his room. I check the balances of my bank and investment accounts while standing in line at “will call” to pick up the concert tickets that Siri purchased for me two hours ago. Suddenly a picture of my wife flashes on the screen modeling a snappy dress she’s thinking about buying. From the dressing room at Macy’s she asks me if the dress makes her look fat. I quickly and deftly inquire from Siri how I should respond to such a provocative and dangerous question. Siri pleads ignorance.

My new phone does more than the first desktop computer I bought 25 years ago. It has more technical capabilities than anything I’ve ever owned. I can do everything required in my job as a financial advisor with this phone from a beach in the Caymans. How much did it cost me? Because of the” new every two” promotion with Verizon, a little over $200, or roughly 15% of what I paid for my first computer. Thank you Steve Jobs, and thank you capitalism.

So, why do I feel so ignorant and helpless with all of this liberating technology pulsing in my hand? It’s simple. I have no earthly idea how any of this magic takes place, and within 30 minutes of turning this thing on, I realized that I could never be without it. I will forever be at the mercy of the techno-geeks who dream up these gadgets, forever dependant on the unseen wizards who fix them when they break, and constantly awaiting the next innovation that will make my current model obsolete. In the meantime, I no longer need my sense of direction, I have mapquest. I no longer have to go to the bank and interact with those annoying tellers, there’s an app for that. Go to the library? Are you kidding, Google does all my research for me. Buy a book at a bookstore? Duh..KINDLE! Carry my Bible to church? Too bulky, besides, its right there on my phone, in 16 different versions. I have access to the accumulated wisdom of the world in a machine that slips neatly into my pants pocket and politely vibrates when I remember to put it on silent.
It occurs to me that in the digital age, no one really needs to know how to do anything anymore. All we need to know is how to press play. If suddenly a solar storm were to wipe out all of the electrical underpinnings of our technological colossus, the western world would be transported instantly back to the middle ages. We would all be huddled around fires in tattered clothing within a year because nobody would know how to sew, build a house, grow a garden, fashion weapons suitable for hunting game, or harness the power of water. We would all be bent over gazing into the dark empty screens of our “smart” phones wondering where Siri went.