Sunday, November 20, 2011

Smartphones and dumbusers

One of the more confounding aspects of my geekery (to myself) was the disconnect between technology I embraced and technology I scoffed at, with no obvious set of rules or standards that distinguished the two categories.

Despite teaching myself HTML around 11 years old (Web 1.0 HTML, but still, I had my own website that I have to think, for the era, was pretty nice -- not a disgusting Geocities mess of animated backgrounds, flashing, text, and Comic Sans; yes, I've always been a little elitist!) and building my own PCs and following tech news closely and engaging in any manner of other proto-geek pursuits, I was never much of a gadget person. Paying for a cell phone -- not just paying more  for a phone, but paying for one at all, when a perfectly adequate one could be had for free -- seemed silly. I didn't like answering the cell phone I had, and when texting eventually came about, I found it absolutely exasperating. (It's still not my preferred form of communication, but I understand the convenience.)

Behold: my first cell phone.

At some point, I transitioned into a "phone person." It's still not clear to me at what point in my head I decided I'd had enough with my dumbphones, but I went and bought myself the first generation Moto Droid on eBay a year or so after it came out. It was all downhill from there.


I still often finding myself staring at my (newer model) phone as it sits in my hand, because I've already done all of the routine checking on it I tend to do every couple of hours, and I ask it (silently): now what am I supposed to do with you? Aren't you supposed to be great? Aren't you supposed to entertain me for HOURS? Of course, I'm supposed to be the one to put the apps on it that entertain me for hours. I'm supposed to be the one that wants to stream video. And yet. I can go on for ages about how useful this thing is. I can get technical about the ways I've modified it and overclocked it for performance and underclocked it for battery life. But. I still get this nagging sensation that I'm not really using it.

Periodically I come across apps that are so handy and useful that I don't know how it's possible I never knew about them before. I feel, both as a person who likes convenience and as a person who is now supposed to be a (pretty knowledgeable) smartphone user, I should have known about this! Why didn't I? Is it still the remnants of me, the person who didn't want to deal with having a cell phone, much less one that was more complicated than something I could use to call my parents when I needed them to pick me up? Or is it just the natural process of moving through a world that is, technologically-speaking, advancing more rapidly than the average person can follow?

Part of what's interesting, as an observer, is the way that high-tech has gone mainstream. For so long, tech-culture was this esoteric thing that interested people followed, but didn't necessarily participate in because it was accepted that to really be a savvy, top-of-the-game user you needed to have money (to keep up with the high turnover rate) and/or connections. Apple can be credited with always being at the forefront of taking the most current technology and making it accessible. They did it with the Lisa and the Macintosh (even though they didn't invent the GUI), and they did it with the iPod (even though they didn't invent mp3s or music players), and they did it with the iPhone (even though they didn't invent ... ok, this is a can of worms I don't want to open.) The smartphone "revolution" has been particularly fascinating because, for all practical purposes, it means that people carry their computers with them wherever they go. This is a conversation we've all had before, but for me, what it boils down to is that now that technology is pop-culture, not being current goes beyond aspiring techies simply not having the means (or the time) to keep up; now it seems that to evolve at the rate of our whole culture, you need to be gadget-friendly. You don't need to have the top-of-the-line, but being connected in our system does require buying into the smartphone effect.

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