A couple days ago, I wrote a Blog regarding amazon.com’s release of the Kindle 2. My feeling was that, while it was a fine technology, was anybody really clamoring for it? In the end, I argued that, for me, books were just fine, thank you very much. It didn’t take long for me to recognize the irony and hypocrisy of making that argument via a Blog on the Internet. I mean, it’s kind of like going on television with a lecture about the pointlessness of television. Then I got to thinking about technology and whether we might just have reached the Usefulness Plateau.
Now, when I say “technology,” I’m referring to the stuff that we all use all the time; not like Stem Cell Research, nanotechnology, etc. I’m not talking about Science, but rather Consumer Technology like iPhone, iPod, iTunes, My Circle, MySpace and MobileMe. If you had never heard of these things, you might be able to figure them out because the purpose of these devices is included right there in the name; “I, me, my, mine.” They are your Consumer Technology avatars. They are the digital you.
They tout the ability to “keep you connected,” as if not being connected is quite possibly the worst thing that could happen to you. Do YOU want to be that last person picked for kickball? Do YOU want to be the only one not invited to the party because you weren’t “connected?”
I certainly don’t. So, curious, I asked a friend if he could give me a tour of his iPhone. Of course he said it had “3G speed.” I asked him what that meant and he said: “It’s fast.” Now, having received my CompTIA A+ certification as an I.T. Technician, with the $5,500, unlaminated card in my wallet to prove it, I knew that “3G,” in this case, was referring to transfer rates, and yes, it is fast for wireless. But it occurred to me that, as far as the consumer was concerned, the “3G” was all about marketing. “3G” is to wireless devices as “Cold Filtering” was to beer.
“Our beer is cold-filtered.”
“Cold-filtered? I’ve never heard of that before. Is that good?”
“Oh, it’s good.”
“What exactly is ‘Cold Filtering?'”
“Oh, it’s good.”
And, what do you know, it tasted like beer. And, to this day, I’ve never seen anyone take a swig of beer, spit it out and say: “Is this beer warm-filtered?”
“And check this out,” my friend said opening one of the many applications. He pressed a button and the device emitted a loud, digital fart. “It’s called ‘iFart,'” he said with school boy glee. Now I love a good fart as much as the next guy, but I can’t say it has ever been a selling point.
I guess my rhetorical questions are these: Does Consumer Technology really bring us closer together than ever before, or is it just technology for technology’s sake? What if we weren’t connected 24/7? What if “MySpace” was simply the area around me? And while we’re capable of sharing all of these experiences, does the actual “Shared Experience” exist any more?
I mentioned it at the top, and I think it bears repeating: Though this rambling manifesto may make me sound like a cranky, old Luddite, I love most of the advances in Consumer Technology. I’m no Henry David Thoreau and we’re not having this discussion at Walden Pond, so I’m clearly a consumer of Technology. But I think we’re beginning to experience the Law of Diminishing Returns. Like texting.
“With this phone, you can also send text messages.”
“Why would I write them a message when I can call them?”
“What if you’re in a situation where it would be rude to place a call like, say, a movie or a restaurant or a play?”
“If it’s rude to make a call, isn’t it rude to text?”
“What if you just wanted to send them a message but didn’t want to talk?”
“Isn’t that what email is for?”
“This phone farts.”