So I got a new cell phone yesterday. First off, let me say that I like new toys just as much as the next guy, but I’m typically the kind of guy that runs the car until the engine falls out before I go buy a new one. I’m not generally one to rush out to the store to get the latest and greatest gadgets fresh off the assembly line, not when I have a perfectly fine model already at home. Hell, I was one of the last people I know to even get a cell phone in the first place, waiting far beyond reason until early 2007 before finally breaking down and signing up. I had stayed away because of an unfortunate side effect of cell phone use I had witnessed first hand in entirely too many people; they were a leash. I watched husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, and employees kept under almost constant surveillance through text messages or calls that they, for whatever internal reason, simply couldn’t bring themselves to ignore. I didn’t want that type of restriction. But when I left my job at the time and started publishing Pet Companions Magazine, I went out and got one because of its relative usefulness for the business at hand.
Over the years, that phone became an important link to a lot of different things far beyond simple phone calls. And I ran into a little of that unfortunate leash problem before coming up with a way of dealing with. Just don’t answer the phone, or reply to that insistent text message. Eventually, people got the point. I used the wireless internet, crude as it was, to keep up with email and various other things. I knew that better and more effective phones were out there, but I didn’t have a need to move from what I already had. Why fix what isn’t broke? Well, a couple weeks ago, I spent a few minutes fooling around with my sister’s iPhone. The capacity of what that thing could do far, far outweighed my virtual antique flip-top Samsung that had served me so well for the past three years. I was debating making some changes to my phone service anyway, so while I was on the Verizon website a couple days ago, I checked out the phone upgrade possibilities that I’d been eligible for since, oh, around Christmas of 2008. I ended up getting the next best thing to an iPhone, I got a Droid. The really great part is that not only is my overall phone bill going to be cheaper than it was before, but they gave me the phone for free, even tossing in free overnight shipping. If there’s one thing I like more than fancy new toys, it’s free fancy new toys. Yeah, yeah, I had to agree to a new two-year contract, but so what? I wasn’t switching services anyway.
Well, I spent the entire evening last night playing around with this phone. The wireless internet, for which I got the unlimited package, is simply fantastic. And the Droid market has so many apps, the vast majority of which are free, that I spent two hours just scrolling through all of the possibilities. One thing I particularly liked, by the way, is Pandora, a streaming music service that lets you type in a band or a song and it instantly creates an entire station of music of and like your selection. And they have a wide variety of really good stuff. It’s just very cool. I’m listening to Led Zeppelin radio right now as I type. Now playing is Ten Years Gone from Jimmy Page and The Black Crowes, complete with album cover art from their Live At The Greek album. The last song was Day in the Life from The Beatles. Wait, now it’s In The Flesh from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. And all I did was just type in Led Zeppelin and click search. My old phone couldn’t do that. I’ve even got the phone plugged into my computer speakers, and the sound is sharp.
Still, I’m not really a tech junkie. I appreciate the hell out of what these things can do, but I don’t get all hung up on specs and stats and such. I’m far more interested in the end-user utility. And to this point, the utility of my new phone is far beyond my capacity for imagining what I’d like to do with it. It feels like I can literally do anything. I’m sure there’s limitations, but this does not bode well for the future of numerous industries. Over the past year, I’ve talked a lot about how the web has forced obsolescence onto the publishing industry. Well, they’re not alone. I think, before all is said and done, we’ll be hard-pressed to find an industry that this technology doesn’t disrupt in some way. And to me today, I’m thinking that while many are still struggling to adjust to the emergence of the web, this relatively new and still expanding mobile capacity has changed even that game. Does it really do you any good to find a way to live in the world of websites when the world is moving toward a mobile cloud way of communicating?
After another Zeppelin tune, Aerosmith’s Dream On and some Tom Petty, I’ve switched over to John Lee Hooker Radio. Time for a little blues for the disrupted. The first tune is When My First Wife Quit Me by the boogie blues man himself. Just cool. Anyway, as convinced as I was two days ago, I’m even more convinced that a useful future on the web isn’t going to be like the old real estate maxim of “location, location, location.” The home page and the destination web, as I’ve seen it called, is already somewhat obsolete. It’s about the vast, flowing streams of information, and about being in the ones that you need to be for the audience you want. After all, the ability to access all things internet wise has already transitioned away from the desktop. You don’t need a computer anymore for any of this. My little 5″ x 3″ touch screen phone can do anything I need communication wise, virtually anywhere I am. And I haven’t even played with an iPad or the like yet.
In a related matter, I was reading this blog earlier about someone who finally, despite a lot of hedging, broke down and got an Amazon Kindle reader for books. Scroll down and read some of the comments. Person after person told almost the same story: “I love books, they’re great. I didn’t want a Kindle because I like real books, but I broke down and got one. Now real books don’t look as attractive any more.” And these aren’t gadget freaks, but genuine book-lovers coming to this realization in numbers. Technology is pervasive, and as it continues to assimilate into our everyday lives, its advantages are going to be too great to ignore, no matter what your biases are. (And to be honest, I’m biased in favor of actual paper books myself, but that belief is increasingly going against reason.)
I see many in publishing talking about how the worst is behind them, but I don’t think so. I think it’s yet to come. Technology is improving by the day, further eroding the usefulness of mediums of the past with each leap. If something as simple as cell phones can grow from what I had in 1997 into what this thing I have now is in three years, what will we be using five years from now? Can you even imagine it? I can’t. The one thing I can see us not using is the daily newspaper. Pandora’s now moved on to Howlin’ Wolf moaning some blues. “I’ve had my fun if I never get well no more. My health is failing me, and I’m going down slow.” Pretty apt, I think.