I figure it’s time for a little perspective. Not that I can speak for anyone else, but I definitely need it now and again. It’s easy to get hung up on the slow pace of a particular piece of technology that you want, like yesterday. Never mind self-driving cars, I’m annoyed about no ubiquitous flying cars or true immersive VR…
…and I still am. But I did get a touch of epiphany from something which, these days, is almost as common as dirt–smartphones. I have one. Not the latest model, I hasten to add, because when it comes to tech, I remain one generation or so behind. Partly as a creature of habit, but mostly because the technology is more tried and true. At least some of the bugs have been tracked down and eradicated by then.
So what do I use it for? A little light web surfing, texting, music, and checking the weather. Only, under duress, will I actually use it as a phone. I hate phones because I hate talking on them. But I like my smartphone since I’m not often called upon to do that thing I don’t like on it. Another use? Setting timers. Handy for making cornbread and other things you don’t want to burn. But I don’t call up the timer app. I just say, “Hey Siri, set a timer for 15 minutes,” and as if by magic, it’s done.
Handy, like I said. But only a very small fraction of what it can actually do. Remember a month or so back when I was noting the difference between knowing and realizing? I mean, of course I knew the thing could do a lot more than what I used it for. I may not write much science fiction but I was in IT for over twenty years and I try to keep up with what’s going on in the world of computing/tech. Consumer-level quantum computers? Can’t wait. Seriously. Probably won’t live that long.
(Step away from the tangent, fella.) Complying, officer. Anyway to put things in perspective, I was part of what was very likely the last generation of college students who owned and needed to own, a slide rule. I’m thinking most of you out there either don’t know what that is or know them only through hearsay. Regardless, my first class in inorganic chemistry required a lot of fiddly calculations that took too long to do any other way. And before anyone asks, yes, electronic calculators did exist, but it was very early generations and they were too damn expensive for most of us. That was first semester. The slide rule saved my butt and I got fairly proficient at using it. I wanted to hug it, that’s how much I appreciated the darn thing. Second semester? We were almost all switched to hand-held four-function calculators as the prices fell rapidly. By the time I graduated, I’d completely forgotten everything I knew about how to use a slide rule.
Now what has that to do with anything? Only perspective. Seeing something you took for granted in a new light. After casually giving Siri an order, I stopped, and really thought about what was happening. From slide rules to a handheld device that, within limits, does what you tell it. Almost like it was a person, if that person had the Library of Congress for a brain. Siri, what’s the reciprocal of 87? Siri, tell me the molecular weight of Cadmium.
And it just does it.
I have to admit, and realize, this is pretty cool.
Granted, it’s still no flying car.