By Nick Place
I like to think I’m not a nerd but I have a guilty secret: sometimes I just find myself staring at my smartphone and shaking my head in wonder.
I mean, we tend to take this stuff for granted, right? Siri interprets ‘Phone my sister’ as ‘Google treatments for a blister’ and we lose our shit. But, damn, if you step back for a moment, it remains astonishing, doesn’t it?
Such an amazing piece of kit. Just so bloody useful and portable and sophisticated and full of processing grunt and an unfathomable amount of storage for photos, songs, movies, documents. And please note, I said smartphone: this is not one of those evangelistic Apple pieces, even though I am personally an iPhone devotee. If you have a Samsung or other smart phone, good for you. I’m certain that everything I’m saying applies just as well.
My point is not the brand, but how this miracle even exists? And now full of the fairly recent innovation of ‘apps’ for pretty much everything. No more fumbling for coins when parking my car, plus weather radar, international newspapers, banking, health insurance claims, free video phone calls to friends across the world, 17,000+ songs, an alarm clock, my calendar, my heart beat and sleep patterns, live footy scores and video, GPS maps for when lost in a foreign city, up-to-the-minute public transport arrival times, food home delivery, inflight entertainment, games and notes and … we both know I could go on and on and on.
Fifteen-year-old me, gazing forward from 1980, could not have dreamed of such a toy.
The iPhone has just turned 10. I remember watching the movie, ‘Lethal Weapon’ – the first one, in 1987 (and yes, I just looked that up on IMDB on my phone) – and raising an eyebrow as Danny Glover drove to a bridge, pulled out what looked like a massive car battery with a phone receiver attached and rang headquarters to complain about unpredictable Riggs, Mel Gibson’s character. What was this ‘mobile telephone’? A few years later, I had a not much smaller Motorola and then a series of Nokias and finally an iPhone. I try not to take it for granted, even a decade on. I think the day it truly hit me was when I was once sitting in a cafe in Melbourne, Australia, watching live NHL ice hockey by satellite from the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, across the world away. On my phone. Like it was no big thing. Seriously.
Because technology can be a bit like the infamous frog in a pot – the evolution happens so slowly you don’t really notice it. But think back, if you’re of the age demographic GiantsAmongMen is aimed at. Remember your first computer? I tapped out a university thesis on my first huge clunky PC: glowing green letters on a black screen – a long way from the silver work of art with a wireless keyboard that I’m tapping on right now.
Your first mobile phone? Hopeless outside of the metro area and offering maybe a few hours battery life, if I didn’t use it. Remember how clunky listening to an iPod in the car was, in the early days? My first version of that one was a fake cassette that clicked into the car stereo, as usual, but linked by cord to the chunky iPod. My second was a wifi device attached to the iPod with a radio frequency to tune the radio to. You had to find empty frequency to match the pair, which wasn’t easy, and changed as you drove around. And this was all long after the first digital music device I bought for hundreds of dollars that could store about 30 songs at a stretch. Good times.
My grandmother wrote the family a book, when she was in her nineties, outlining the changes to the world that had happened in her lifetime. She was born in 1907, PRE-REFRIGERATORS. Electric lightbulbs were a relatively new phenomenon, and she saw cars replace horses, let alone planes flying overhead. Antiobiotics, moving pictures, man on the moon, she saw it all.
And now here we are. I don’t know about you, but when I was a really young kid, Bill & Ben, The Flowerpot Men were on the ABC, in glorious black and white. Compare that to the televisions I gaped at on a recent visit to Korea, which are as thin as a smart phone, hang on the wall like a poster and have clarity and pixel-colour explosions that were unimaginable a decade ago (and, by the way, will feature as the OLED screen in LG’s new phone later this year).
We Giants Among Men have seen a lot. And we’re going to see more, with the rise of artificial intelligence, potential commercial space travel, medical technology and who knows what else? Wandering in Seoul, at Samsung HQ (The D’Light public space on the ground floor), I saw how that company sees the future, from virtual reality, sensors and cameras to in-home technology, retail to health. Some of it left me unmoved. Other parts had me salivating for when they arrive.
Right now, phones are a battleground of hi-tech development. Samsung, Apple and LG are among the smartphone providers planning a ‘new features’ duel as they battle for consumers towards the end of this year.
Meanwhile, France has just announced that sales of petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2040, so you might want to start paying some attention to the latest developments in electric vehicles, above and beyond Tesla, if you haven’t already.
On the flip side, The Washington Post says the electric guitar is on the way out, as kids fail to take up their axes, but maybe it will just morph into something else? Or get retro cool?
The world doesn’t sit still for a minute and, when it comes to technology, I like that, even if we do have to consider new sociological issues like whether it’s healthy for entire trainloads of people, or kids, obviously, to be staring at screens instead of engaging with the physical world in front of them.
We’ll work it out. We usually do, apart from climate change, unfortunately. Even personal jetpacks are now on the near horizon, instead of in science fiction. What’s not to love?
I’m just sitting here, looking forward to what comes next.