On the way back from my daughter’s YMCA basketball practice, from the back of her car she said “Can I watch the video of my basketball on your phone now?” It struck me that when I was her age, or even when I was 5 times her age, a question like that was pure science fiction. A video, meaning a full-motion recording of an event, available to view less than 5 minutes after the event, on a phone, a mobile phone with more computing power than any of the Apollo astronauts had at their disposal. We live in an amazing time.
My wife an I just purchased iPhone 4s phones for Christmas, moving our family into the twenty-first century phones technology. My old phone, a pay-as-you-go Virgin mobile cheap phone made by Kyocera, was perfectly adequate for most of my cell phone needs. But the iPhone isn’t really about its functionality as a phone. My wife has noted that the iPhone is a better camera than her camera. I have a good camera, but the fun iPhone-ography tools available, like Hipstamatic and Lo-Mob, make it a really fun way to take pictures. Plus, I always forget to bring my camera along, but not my phone. There is so much more to an iPhone, it is truly something out of vintage Heinlein, or Clarke.
On my way to work on Friday, NPR featured a story about the state of Nevada providing licenses for robotic cars. Google, and other companies, have been active in pursuing self-driving robotic car technology, mostly without official sanction until now. Nevada is the first state to quit winking at this practice, and assign a “student driver” permit to these robotic cars. This is technology from an Asimov tale.
In the midst of our technologically abundant world, there is a growing nostalgia for things from simpler times, or maybe post-modern versions of those simpler times. For example, steam-punk culture, where an imagined past where modern technology isn’t so, well, modern, glorifies the past while at the same time embracing the present, and the future. It really is in many ways the same statement that the technologists at Apple and Google are saying: anything is possible.
Much of the gee-whiz technology of my youthful imagination is now reality, but the cost of that technology for our lives and the life of our planet is mind-boggling. Cell phones bring us together, yet make it impossible for us to get away. Mobile technology fueled a revolution in Cairo, but in China, ironically where much of that technology is produced, the state uses technology to spy on its citizens. While we enjoy the riches of technology, most of the world’s people suffer in poverty. The power needs of our technological world drive climate change, which may destroy our world. Ironically, the only way out of that problem may be more high-tech wonders, such as new wind and solar generating technology.
I can only imagine what my daughter’s world will be like.