Tom’s Phone

by Randy Murray on July 12, 2011

It is amazing how quickly we adapt.

My brother and his family came out for my daughter’s high school graduation in May. Tom and his family live near Kansas City, Missouri, so we don’t get to see them often, but it’s nice when we do. And when we do see each other, there’s a lot to catch up on.

At one point during their visit he handed me his phone to show me a picture and told me I could page through them. I glanced at the first postage stamp sized picture, then touched the screen. I swiped both ways, up and down and stabbed it repeatedly with my finger. Nothing. I was glaring at it, frowning, when I realized, suddenly embarrassed, that it was not a touch screen phone. Within a few seconds I found the physical keys to page forward and back and look at the pics and quickly handed the phone back, not remembering the photos, just the embarrassment.

In my mind, all phones were now iPhones.

The author William Gibson said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Ain’t that true? And it’s not just that some of us already live in the future, but we quickly forget what it’s like to live in the past. My oldest daughter doesn’t have a land line phone and doesn’t subscribe to cable TV. She uses her iPad and Netflix to watch movies and TV shows. But she also lives further in the past than I do: she uses an antenna to watch local broadcast TV (although she does it in High Definition).

My youngest daughter is heading off to college soon and she’ll carry a brand new Macbook Pro. I tried to push her towards carrying only an iPad, but she rejected it out of hand. For her, the laptop is a better choice and I can’t argue with that. She doesn’t need an laptop for schoolwork, but she’s comfortable with it. For others an iPhone (or other smartphone) might be all that they need and still stay fully engaged in this new online world.

Tools exist outside time. And as any craftsman knows, select the right tool for the job. Technology and products advance, but each of us selects what we know, what we’re comfortable with, and what works best for us. Or at least as far as we know what’s available. You see, we all proceed into the technological future at our own pace. Sometimes we step from rock to rock, sometimes we leap to the next shore.

A friend of mine is digitizing his collection of live taped music. He sits right in the middle of the technology crossroads, with a bow to the distant past. Before he can play each tape on his massive reel-to-real player one last time, he has to bake them, literally bake them in an oven (a dehydrator, actually). It’s a very physical process that helps him carry his past into the new digital future.

Where does it all lead? I’m not sure. But that moment, stabbing my finger at the screen of a not-so-smart phone stays with me. I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime soon I handed my phone to someone and they looked at it with confusion and embarrassment and asked me how to project in 3D.

Oh, and Tom? He’s getting a new iPhone. Not because of me, but because his office is supplying them. It’s the right tool for him now. And he’s excited about not only using an iPhone, but thinking about what iPads might mean for his business needs. He’s ready, the tools are there, and I’m certain he’ll do great things with them.

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