Reality Check – Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My iPod
I’m writing this blog post from my iPod, whilst watching a football match (in HD) on a television screen roughly the size of a dining room table, and I’m thinking about how pretty damn awesome ‘stuff’ has become. I still remember my first mobile phone, which I got at what then seemed the relatively early age of 13… and it was awful. Indeed, I am reminded of it’s sheer uselessness by the fact I currently use the cheapest phone you can buy (more on that in a minute) from Carphone Warehouse, and that phone kicks my ancient Motorola’s ass.
Not only has stuff gotten way better, but it has done so in quite unexpected ways. I was talking a couple of years ago with a friend who works in the communications industry, who observed that very few people actually saw the wireless revolution coming. No one thought fifteen years ago that something like my iPod could possibly do what it does. Indeed, the portable mp3 player only made its first appearance on the shelves in 1997.
But anyway, I write not to exalt the wonders of modern technology but to complain about our constant need to get the upgrade or the new piece of kit. This strikes me as completely the wrong focus, and we are all the poorer for it. Apple, for instance, tend to upgrade each line of product more than once a year. My complaint is not that the upgrades don’t represent a genuine technological achievement, which they often do, but that by the time we get round to buying the next big thing we still haven’t figured out all the incredible uses to which we can put the stuff we already have. I would contend that the awesome potential for SMS messaging has still not come close to being realised. The services are often there – e.g. Texting for train times and the like, but before it ever could (at least to my knowledge) become widely used we had this new amazing thing called the App. I am also constantly discovering new things I can do with my computer and new programs that can make my computing experience feel like, well, having a brand new machine.
Don’t get me wrong, I am as prone as anyone to the lure of new technology and general gadgetery. I came surprisingly close to getting an iPad – which given I possess both an iPod Touch and an expensive ultra-portable laptop is a bloody ridiculous waste of money. The latest thing to catch my attention is the MiFi, which basically acts as a mobile broadband hotspot for all your wireless capable kit*. But I also can’t help thinking that if I spent as much time figuring out new ways of using the stuff I’ve got as browsing for new stuff I could get, then I would probably be better off even if I ended up buying all of it. I also feel a kind offence that technology which has not yet even come remotely close to meeting its potential is discarded for something that is often just a slight upgrade.
So I’ve decided to make a resolution: for the next year, every time I feel like looking at new gadgets, or upgrading my laptop or iPod, I shall first find something cool that I can do with the stuff I already have that I never knew I could do. I find this assuages my desire for acquiring new ‘stuff’. One thing I already do to make my computer feel new is give the chassis a good clean every few months, and restore everything to factory settings. I’ll reinstall a lot of the programs I already had, but use the opportunity to inventory what I actually use as well as have a look around for new free software. Plus, since windows has an incredible ability to become clogged up with various errors and problems, I am always genuinely surprised at just how well my laptop performs when it has been totally de-cluttered. If you have a PC or laptop with Vista, you could do a whole lot worse than restoring it to factory settings and upgrading to Windows 7. I love the latest Microsoft OS, because the premise of the whole upgrade was to make the same basic concept work better, and to their credit it really does.
Which brings me to my final point: the mobile phone. The regular upgrade has made us far too obsessed with new features (like the ever increasing megapixels on the camera) and blind to the uses to which those features could be put. Sadly, it also seems that the vast majority of phones are now Internet and email capable, and that such services are now standard in pay monthly contracts (which, outrageously, are now almost all 24 months). I say sadly because I have no interest in having email on my phone. Why, you ask? Because when I start my job, I don’t want to be paying for the privilege of being reachable by email 24/7 – and if it has to happen, I don’t want to be the one to pick up the tab. What I’d really like is a phone that just does texts, calls and contacts really well, but sadly this product does not seem to exist. I still want to find out all the cool things I can do with just a text message.
I suppose this is all by way of saying: I’d take train times by SMS over emails from the boss anyday. I cannot help but feel that our incredible technological achievements are often matched by the poverty of our imagination in putting it to work in interesting and exciting ways.
Actually, I think that may be a bit unfair. The apps are out there, and the SMS services are available, but we as consumers spend far too much time thinking about the hardware. To this end, I would be more than glad if the precious few readers that grace my humble blog could tell me about some of their favourite iPod/iPhone apps, or freeware for the PC. I can say with confidence that such information has the potential to enrich me far more than if you decided to buy me a new phone.
Since we are currently reliant on finite natural resources for making all the new crap we buy, it strikes me that we cannot afford but to change our attitude. Stop worrying about that extra .3Ghz of processing power, and think about what you use it for. It may not be an exaggeration to say that future progress depends on it.
*How cool is that?!
UPDATE 3/9/2010: I just bought an iPhone 4… so sue me.
UPDATE 2: …and now I have an iPad, too. Bloody marvellous machine.