Wednesday, March 23, 2011

G whiz, stop it already

You might have seen the AT&T commercial with four people who are riding together in a car when one receives a funny email over his smart phone. While two of his co-workers wait for their ohhh-so-slooow phones to download the same email, he watches it and squeals in delight. Yes, like a pig. By the time the two companions’ downloads via some other network are done, they break out into laughter over the same email. Him? When his colleague beside him taps his shoulder—for some discordant reason, he isn’t hysterically laughing along—he nods distastefully about what, to him, is now a very old joke.

I’m thinking about the implication of all this. It seemed like yesterday that everyone was rushing out to get the first iPhones and other so-called "smart phones" that access the Internet in the time it once took to fetch the phone book. With the advent of smart phones, the occasion arose to create a retronym for what everyone used before. Nobody did. They didn’t have to—the message was clear. The phone I first bought solely to tell Elena I’m stuck in traffic or haven’t drowned at sea while fishing is now, shall we say, a "stupid phone."

It’s one thing for me to call something I own stupid; you might say it’s my mantra. But silly me, I find it hard to call a phone smart that lets anybody from work email me any hour of every day—and expect an immediate response.

But these smart phones, using such breathtaking monikers as "3G" and even "4G," are presented as so utterly cool that, well, you’d be stupid to resist. The key to their time-saving technology? You’d better sit down for this. You’ll save time whenever you brag about the technology to some schmo without a smart phone…by saying "G" instead of "generation." Trust me. In the weeks before the next G shows up, rendering current smart phones obsolete, those syllables add up.

Having covered technology for the first half of my career, I’m allowed to have a certain level of skepticism. What’s with this 3G and 4G stuff? If every new version is going to render all previous versions obsolete—it’s at least what AT&T wants us to think—why not hold out for the highest G you know? I happen not to know, for instance, the next round number after a quadrillion. That works for me.

Yet these toys have their pull, don’t they? For years we’ve been told to forget about our TV’s two tiny speakers and hook the cable box to a receiver that can drive six speakers or more for "surround sound." I thought it was silly and held out as long as I could. Today we have, um, our TV’s two tiny speakers. Let me try this again: Who wanted one of those clunky CRT TVs when store shelves were overflowing with flat-screen sets? That would be me. Besides, I might find it too hard to turn away from a flat-screen set when it’s time to go to the window, lean out and yell, "I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!"

Nevertheless, I feel the pull whenever I’m with someone who’s telling me some news flash, some clever thing a friend said on a social network, or a colleague’s email reply we both needed to see—all because he had a smart phone and I had my stupid one. I first joined Facebook one night that I was feeling my age. Other sites came next. Anyone who goes on such sites daily, then misses a day or two, gets the feeling of needing to catch up. How much more up-to-date would I be if I just got….

In the meantime, it’s all too much. I even dreamed about it the other day. I had a smart phone of my own and was walking in a rustic park I’ve never seen. A little dog runs over as I head toward what looks like a brook. Cute little guy, so friendly—if he had a Facebook page, I could “like” him. And oh, this lovely brook; I watch as it meanders around a bend. If only I could follow it. But no, I’d never find it on Twitter.