Thursday, February 19, 2009

Space Age Technology

I can't remember the last time I was bored.

I used to get bored every day. Eventually I would dream up something to amuse myself, after my mind had idled so long that it hallucinated itself into a creative frenzy. I'd go outside and build dirt roads for my Tonka trucks, construct a stray-cat hotel, or assign names to the ants. Maybe just dig a hole, in case someday I need one.

The first computer I ever saw was a Commodore 64: a tiny, inexpensive unit that had to be programmed by hand every time you turned it on, because floppies hadn't been invented yet. Once you took the time to learn the computer's language, you could fire it up and, with only about twenty minutes of coding, teach it to display in luminous green letters:

"Hi, my name is Michael.
Run again? (Y)es, (N)o."


All this computer programming saved me the time of having to type, "Hi, my name is Michael," although actually I did have to type it because it was part of the programming. With a tweak, you could create an endless loop so it would print your name line after line, so fast you could barely see it scroll across the screen. That would definitely save time over me hand-typing it over and over indefinitely. So there's that.

When cell phones began growing in popularity, I became a Luddite. I resisted the idea of callers reaching me wherever I was. I preferred my answering machine, which solved the quandary of avoiding people while not missing out on anything. But I eventually got a cell phone, convincing myself that I'd use it only to call out, sharing my number only with a chosen few. I stored the numbers of all my favorite fast-food restaurants so I could drunk-dial them, then swing by to pick up food on my way home from the bar. A time saving device, to be sure.

I also convinced myself that a cell phone would be useful in an emergency. My first phone was a Nokia, black and as big as a candy bar. (A candy bar in 1995, that is. Candy bars have shrunk over time in proportion to cell phones.) It had a teeny little screen and the sound was scratchy, but I could conduct a conversation without the other person saying, "Huh? I'm sorry, what? You're breaking up." The first emergency my new phone experienced was when I dropped it at a music festival and it was run over by a hearse.

My current cell phone is the size of a candy bar now, which is to say, unsatisfying. It looks like a candy bar too, a bite-sized black rectangle with rounded corners, and just as slippery. It even calls itself a Chocolate. I try to wedge it between my ear and shoulder when I need to use my hands, and it squirts out like a pumpkin seed.

Cell phones save time by keeping us constantly connected. Driving time can now be used to chat with friends, and we get home sooner because while we were checking our text messages we drove through all the red lights.

My computer checks for e-mail messages every fifteen minutes. In between, I usually push the "Mail" button to make it check again, because e-mail is way more fun than working, and besides, it's so much more efficient than regular mail. Think of all the time I'm saving by not using regular mail to forward jokes to all my friends.

Today, rather than going to all the trouble of dialing seven whole digits and actually speaking to someone, we hand-type messages using only our opposable thumbs. I'm beginning to suspect this is why monkeys got rid of theirs. Evolution might have occurred, but we probably have the direction wrong. Monkeys live happily in the tropics, eat fresh food for free, don't need jobs, talk face to face without a cell phone. and instead of forwarding each other jokes and YouTube videos, they take naps and have sex. The next generation of phone will probably require us to communicate by pounding it in Morse Code against a rock.

The latest portable device: cell toilets. "Look! They're so small and light you can take one with you wherever you go! Relieve yourself while you walk—even while you drive! You can get rid of your old land toilet. These are so cheap you won't even care if it quits working. Just throw it away and buy another!"

"It's a paper cup."

"That's the beauty of it—it'll even reduce your water bill! Think of the time you'll save!"

What I really want is a big, sturdy, comfortable phone that gets great reception, one with luxuriously big speakers that fit my ear, and a mouthpiece that reaches my mouth. Something indestructible, heavy enough that you can slam it down nice and hard when you hang up on a telemarketer or ex-girlfriend. One that doesn't require recharging, yet lasts for years. I want a real Space Age kind of phone—which is to say, one from the 1960s. Back then, I could talk for hours.

5 comments:

  1. I miss the heavy black telephone that I grew up with. It was attached to the wall, which meant that when I was on the telephone, I sat in a comfy chair and DID NOTHING ELSE. And I could actually hear the person on the other end!

    I don't think I've ever had a satisfying conversation on a cell phone. I'm usually reduced to screaming stuff like, "I know you're walking around the grocery store and yes, it's exciting that peaches are on sale, but COULD YOU PAY SOME ATTENTION TO ME?"

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  2. And it was one bone phone per family, right in the main room. "Moooomm," I'd whine while she stood over me, "I'm on the phoooooone!"

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  3. Yeah, I can remember how hard it was to sound suave and sophisticated talking to boys when I had all these annoying siblings squabbling and fighting and mocking me out in the background.

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  4. I have one. A thousand bucks. For you 995.


    ;-)

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