Posts Tagged smart phones

The young anachronism

AMT Grumman F9F PantherMy birth date puts me firmly within the generation that grew up with computers and smartphones, yet I sometimes feel like an anachronism. I’ve watched some of my favorite things (books, magazines, bookstores) and my chosen profession (print journalism) become threatened by digitalia, and the cycle isn’t stopping.

In a recent column, Car and Driver’s Aaron Robinson chronicled the demise of hobby stores. Yet another analog activity bites the dust.

I guess I’m lucky that my local hobby store isn’t affected by this trend. I’ve got a 1971 Dodge Charger plastic model kit on my workbench right now, with a Cold War-era guided missile cruiser and an F-104 Starfighter in the queue.

Given that the death of print books has been forecast for several years and Barnes & Noble is still open, I won’t be running down to the hobby shop to clear the shelves like a crazed prepper just yet. Still, it never feels good to have one of your passions make the transition from mainstream to old fashioned.

Sometimes, it makes me feel like I missed the boat on the digital revolution, but only just. When I purchased by first SLR camera in 2001, digital SLRs were extremely expensive and 35mm film was still putting up a fight in the battle for relevance. I also remember the typewriter my dad used to use for word processing.

That’s why I still prefer to shoot with film, draw with a pencil, read a physical book, and assemble plastic toys for fun. Like many older people who are expected to have a fondness for such things, I can truthfully say that I grew up with this stuff.

“At 43, I don’t feel ready to be called “old school,’” Robinson said in his Car and Driver column. At 25, I feel the same way.

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Flinching in the face of the future

They used to say “trust no one over 30,” and I guess that means I can’t be trusted. I’m not over 30, but I seem to have the mentality of someone who is beyond their 20s.

Twenty-somethings have run afoul of the New York Times a lot lately. In one post I read recently, the author described the Times as “conservative” and “on the wrong side of history” for criticizing the Millenial lifestyle.

It wasn’t just shocking to hear a paragon of liberalism like the Times being referred to as conservative, it was the thought that modern tech is defining who we are.

I’m a 20-something, but I sometimes feel like I’m on the wrong side of history. I use digital tech to work and communicate, but I often wonder if society isn’t paying a price for all of the convenience it offers.

Of course, everyone gets annoyed by the constant barrage of e-mails and Facebook statuses once in awhile, but what really bothers me is the feeling that, whatever people think about tech, and whatever legitimate evidence of its flaws comes to light, we’ll continue plunging head-first into a wired future. We don’t have a choice.

I love writing this blog, and I love being able to keep in touch with far flung friends with social media. However, I also love print books, and my flip phone. I don’t love the idea of paying my bills online, and risking all sorts of digital skullduggery.

I often read that the Internet and smart devices are creating unheard of opportunities for innovation, that they are tools that can change the world. But for something that can do all of that, it comes with an awful lot of rules.

Living in the Digital World requires a different set of skills; it doesn’t completely level the playing field. As with anything else, some people are better at it. Those who can express themselves in 140 characters, attract followers, and read the data will always succeed. Those who can’t will fail.

I guess this is second nature to some people, but it quickly drains the romance from the digital frontier. Whenever I engage a new medium, it seems like someone’s already figured it out before me. So what’s required is conformity, not innovation.

I’m sure there are others more brilliant and courageous than I who can bend these mediums to their will and truly innovate, but it’s completely false to believe that everyone can automatically do the same because of some inherent quality of the technology.

I sincerely hope that technology leads us to a better future. I hope that someday, our reality is like Star Trek. I just have a hard time seeing how to get from here to there, and I have a hard time imbuing technology with that much significance. Yes, it’s new and popular but at one time, so was the steam engine.

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Weather can’t stop the Postal Service, but government cutbacks can?

United_States_Postal_Service_LogoAs I sit here typing while watching snow persistently fall, I can’t help but think about the people that have to work to make mine and everyone else’s lives happen even when it gets inconvenient. You’ve heard the mail carrier’s mantra, right? They may not be out delivering mail in the Northeast today, but if we were expecting slightly less than two-to-five feet of snow, they probably would be.

That’s why I find it so ridiculous that we can’t agree to fund the Postal Service, and that this logistical marvel is cutting Saturday mail delivery because of that. We may be in the midst of a rather heated federal spending debate, but really? Even this is up for debate?

Even postmaster general and stereotypical corrupt political appointee Patrick R. Donohue has pointed out, mail may be cheap, but e-mail is free. However, as long as we live in a physical world, we’ll still need a way to move physical objects from one place to another.

I’m not being sentimental: until someone perfects Star Trek-like transporter technology, there will literally be no way to send a magazine or a college care package anywhere with a computer.

Also, considering that Chinese hackers can seemingly take down the New York Times at will, I’m not too comfortable with online banking.

The Postal Sevice is one of those modern conveniences that people take for granted, and maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps, because they sit in front of their computers, tablets, and smartphones all day, and not their mailboxes, they assume they can do without it.

Which is why a blizzard happening days after the postmaster general announced an end to Saturday letter service is quite fortuitous. Massive power outages are expected, so all of that hyper-efficient 21st century communication technology will soon be useless. The Internet isn’t sounding so superior right now.

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Is it a car, or a tablet?

Cadillac XTS dashboardIn its ads for the XTS with CUE (Cadillac User Entertainment), Cadillac likes to emphasize how much its infotainment system’s interface has in common with a smart phone or tablet. You can pinch and drag on the XTS’ touch screen to your heart’s content, but what about the rest of the car?

Digital devices are the hot technology of the moment, just as cars, jets, and trains were in decades and centuries past. To keep with the times, cars are starting to take on some of the look and functionality of phones and tablets.

Design wise, that creates many good-looking cars that lack the sheer verve and optimism of the classics. But it creates a host of more practical problems when car companies start turning their products into giant tablets.

At the very least, it makes driving a car very difficult. Controlling a touch screen is easy when you can look at it, but you really need to keep your eyes on the road at all times while driving.

Carmakers continue putting these systems in their vehicles, but they’ve pretty much left it up to the owners to figure out how to use them without crashing. So much for surfing radio stations on the go.

Or even checking to see if your brights are on. A small dashboard icon suffices in most cars, but the Tesla Model S uses its industry-best 17-inch screen to show the driver a picture of the entire car.

That’s cool when you’re sitting still, but it’s hard to imagine looking away from the road while carving through traffic to fiddle with the screen.

Driver shouldn’t get into the habit of ignoring the road to play with infotainment systems, and they shouldn’t ignore the rest of the car either. The Model S’ touch screen is the cherry on top of a technology sundae that includes a high-performance electric powertrain and super-low drag coefficient, but what if someone slapped that interface on a less-than stellar car?

A car needs to do much more than be a wheeled platform for a tablet. Customers shouldn’t let carmakers off the hook, or let themselves get cheated, by ignoring the things that make a car a car. After all, would you buy a Ford Pinto if someone strapped an iPad to the dashboard? We really on our cars for transportation and our mobile devices for communication. Let’s try not to confuse the two.

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A tale of two taillights

1955 Chevy Bel AirWhat’s in a taillight? When Chevy rolled out its iconic 1955 models, it put the gasoline filler in the left taillight. Over 50 years later, Tesla is borrowing that unique feature: the company’s Model S electric car has its socket in the left taillight. Both these cars represent the design of their times, and they couldn’t be more different.

The ’55 Chevy (and it’s 1956 and 1957 “Tri-Five” siblings) was inspired by the hot technologies of its day: jets and rockets. Its tail fins were inspired by the tail booms of a World War II P-38 Lightning, and with their glowing red taillights, they look like rocket motors. It also has plenty of chrome because, in the 1950s, people thought everything in the future would be chromed.

The Tesla is also inspired by the technology of its day: computers, tablets, and smart phones. It’s powered by laptop batteries, so the Model S has the same minimal lines as a digital device; it’s definitely modern, but not overly elaborate. Americans today are more interested in social media than space exploration, which is why the interior is designed around the largest touch screen available in a car.

The Model S certainly proves that electric cars aren’t for nerds, that they can be just as stylish and luxurious as their petrol-powered counterparts. However, it doesn’t light my fire the way a ’55-’57 Chevy does. Why? It’s all about the inspiration.Tesla Model S

Trying to make a car look like a jet fighter is a great idea because jet fighters look cool. Tablets and smart phones do look sleek and modern, but they’re not much to go on when designing something more substantial, like a car.

The promise of space travel, cheap transcontinental jet flight, and atomic power never really played out, but least that technology looked cool. You can’t say that about today’s technology, even if it is more efficient and more useful.

The 1955 Chevrolet is a classic car partly because of the optimistic image it invoked. The Model S will certainly go down in history as an important car, but will it be a classic? Only time will tell.

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Instant Isolation

Pandora logoI really hate “Moves Like Jagger.” It’s a mediocre pop song with a stupid premise. Is Maroon 5 so lame that they have to invoke Mick Jagger? Are they too uncool to sing about themselves? But I digress.

That song came on the radio this morning, so I had to start flipping through channels to get away from it. If I had satellite radio, an iPod dock, or some form of internet radio, I could be reasonably assured that I would never have to hear about Jagger’s moves ever again. However, that’s not a world I would want to live in.

The Digital Age gives people the opportunity to focus on what they like, to the exclusion of everything else. No matter how esoteric your taste in music is, you can build a playlist  around it. Like Indy-emo-punk rock played on the hubcaps of a 1977 Chevy Caprice? Just do an iTunes Power Search, or punch some keywords into Pandora.

That is definitely a good thing, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are other things out there. Most people listen to the radio while driving, but thanks to digital music, they never have to listen to the same music as everyone else. Many cars come with internet or satellite radios, and internal hard drives that can store a person’s entire music library. The iPod has become a shape-shifter.

Hearing your favorite song on the radio used to be a moment of joy, because you had to wade through all the dreck of bad songs, commercials, and annoying DJs to get to it. Today, we live in an age of instant gratification. Again, everyone deserves to hear what they want, when they want (power to the listeners!) but we have to consider the adverse effects of this technology.

Is it possible that we’re getting too compartmentalized? We have a good idea of what we like, but do we know what other people like? It helps to at least be aware of what other people are reading, watching, or hearing. At the very least, it helps us figure out what we don’t like and, consequently, who we are. It can also help us relate to each other more easily, instead of walling ourselves off from the rest of the world in little boxes of taste.

Derivative pop songs can be very annoying, if you’re not into bad music, but not everyone has the same taste. Along with opposable thumbs, difference is the most essential part of being human. With that in mind, remembering that there are other people out there besides ourselves can’t be a bad thing. It might even create a little empathy (gasp!). Alright, maybe this is taking things a little too far. However, one thing is for sure: traditional radio helps you appreciate the little things, like every blessed moment “Moves Like Jagger” is off the air.

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We need to teach our parents some manners

Technology is a wonderful thing (this blog wouldn’t be possible without it), but it does come with some drawbacks. The combined heat of the world’s iPad 3s is probably contributing to global warming, and some say the Internet is just one big distraction. Regardless, one thing is certain: high tech gadgets make people incredibly rude.

People seem to think that smart phones and other devices excuse them from behaving properly. They let them ring at the most inappropriate times, and discuss things in elevated cell phone voices that not one needs to hear. Suits with ear pieces look like they are talking to themselves. People carry on conversations with friends while texting other friends.

A few years ago, this type of behavior would have been unthinkable. Now, people are so engrossed in what is happening on their tiny LCD screens that they ignore the people around them. Is this the future of human interactions? Perhaps not.

I may sound like an altacocker, but I’m actually part of the young, tech savvy generation ad men dream about. This isn’t the 1950s, where an older generation decried youth’s supposed lack of morals. This time, parents (and grandparents) are listening to rock n’ roll. Unlike past cultural phenomena, the technological revolution is not generation-specific.

A common stereotype is that all young people are very good with computers, while their Baby Boomer parents just can’t figure them out. That’s often true, but that doesn’t mean older people are not using computers, smart phones, or tablets. In fact, that’s the problem.

A lot of older people have smart phones, but they may not be comfortable using them. They see other people being obnoxious, and assume it is part of the brave new smart phone culture. These people probably don’t even know how to set their iPhones to “silent.”

Consequently, it’s up to teenagers and 20-somethings to teach their parents some manners. This generation has grown up with the annoyances of technology abuse, so they know how to use their devices without making everyone within a 15-foot radius want to kill them. Youth is also much better for marketing: no one takes an old person complaining about manners seriously, but what about someone in their 20s? For once, parents should listen to their children.

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