My Treo 650 arrived today! It’s a free replacement of my Treo 600 that no longer makes or takes phone calls. I haven’t had a lot of time to play with the new Treo, but because it has Bluetooth, I should be able to interface the Nokia 770 and the Treo 650 easily. This means that if I’m somewhere without free Wifi, but I get cellular signal, I can easily bridge the cellular signal to my Nokia 770 through the wireless magic of Bluetooth.
Even in today’s realm of nearly pervasive computing, I’m still constantly astounded. I’m barely old enough to remember Pong. I sort-of remember the dawn of personal computing. I’m old enough to remember what 75 bps/baud felt like. Yes, I know that BPS != baud, but for the purposes of that particular modem and this argument, it’s fine – especially when confronted by the 9mbit cable modem currently providing my connection. I even remember the first single file in excess of 1mb I ever downloaded. At 300 bps/baud. With interruptions and download resuming, it took something like 2-3 days. My parents were furious when they got the phone bill that month. It was a local ZUM 3 zoned toll call. That 1mb file cost our household over $500 USD! And I don’t even remember what it was!!
And yet… for years now, people throw away working computers so powerful I would have chewed off at least one of my own limbs just to possess them, way back when. Though I jest easily, I jest not about such important things. Twenty years later it’s still difficult to even comprehend the fever that gripped me back then. Even now I go all clammy thinking about how potent those feelings once were. I am using such a throwaway computer now, and I have a few more such machines I use besides. Interestingly, it’s still faster than the modern WindowsXP laptop issued to me by my work!
I now carry around a now nearly ancient – and also thrown-away – Palm IIIC that has an order of magnitude more storage then my family’s first home computer. In fact, it’s nearly equatable in feel and power to a Mac Classic 512K. But in color. In my pocket. With, again, an order of magnitude more default storage space. This now obsolete device contains a dozen novels, assorted maps and transportation schedules, and dozens upon dozens of applications ranging from music creation tools to document editors, various utilities, a very complete interactive star chart, painting/art programs, numerous games, and even an infrared meter/detection tool – and more besides.
I also carry a rather bottom-of-the-line portable phone that has better graphics, a better display – in color rather than green monochrome, more CPU and more memory then my family’s first computer. That talks wirelessly. To most of the world. Much or all of it through varieties of packet switching networks. (And yet they still won’t let me connect to the internet, browse via WAP, send a proper email, or simply do an old-school data modem connection from it. Hrmpf. I use Cricket. No frills.)
People now routinely buy – at toy stores! – what were once astronomically expensive, experimental supercomputers, now packaged in slim, small, brightly colored enclosures, simply to play silly, inconsequential little games on. Rather than, say, simulating nuclear explosions on. By all means, play on! Chess? 😉
I have nearly immediate access to more information then I could ever hope to consume or even glance at – even in a hundred lifetimes. Or even a thousand. In fact, even excluding all the boring stuff, more interesting text and data is created or transcribed and uploaded every day then I could consume in n number of lifetimes.
Barring catastrophe, I will never, ever again experience what it feels like to read every Sci Fi novel, every technical manual, every art book at the rather large central library that I spent much of my formative years growing up in.
Barring catastrophe, I will never, ever (truly) again experience what it means to be unable to communicate with someone, regardless of physical distance or time of day. Excluding the internet itself as a channel, but including the internet simply as the container for many channels, I have at my fingertips half a dozen ways of communication with a vast number of people. Hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands if I want to expand this to include the myriad number of ways of sending information to and receiving information from a recipient. Without even touching my stand-alone, battery powered phone.
Even without a computer and connection of my own, the cost of entry would be absolutely nothing at all if I just schlepped myself down to the local library.
Amongst all this I’m still intensely aware of all of these things. They do not fade readily into the background as a much as a “given” (in the so-called civilized world) as running water fades into the background. As electricity does. As breathing itself does.
And sometimes I wonder if all this pervasive computing and connectivity will ever fade into the background for me as a given, taken for granted metabolic state, as it probably does for those just a bit younger than I.
And yet, this connectivity is already as essential as breathing is to me. Without it I would not have my current job, this apartment, even the computer itself which I now use. (Thanks you craigslist!) I wouldn’t have immediate access to transportation schedules, which maintain my job. Access to vital weather information, which helps me maintain my health and my job, and enables good planning. I haven’t touched a paper phone book in years.
I wouldn’t have entertainment. I wouldn’t have the art and music I enjoy. I wouldn’t be able to pick and choose the minds I find fascinating to interact with. I would be but a fraction of who I am today.
The internet has literally saved my hide from certain doom – if not at least prolonged discomfort – at least a dozen times. It has enabled the seeking of shelter when it was needed most, the provision of economic viability, transportation, communication, and so much more.
I would even personally argue that I owe the internet my very life – via the convoluted, twisting paths of life itself, with it’s occasionally fatal levels of frustration leading to ideations of self harm and hopelessness – upon which once a frightened call in the dark was answered so long ago, not merely by one concerned soul, but dozens upon dozens bearing not only firm, kind wishes – but bucketfuls of wisdom, strength, and love.
There is no price for such a thing. It cannot be valued, bartered, bought or sold, or even given away. The very concept and abstraction of price becomes meaningless in the face of it.
I have a hard time comparing, say, the mechanical printing press and this nebulous, cloud-like concept we call the internet. They do not sit rationally or comfortably together on the same scale in my mind. While one begat the other, one now dwarfs the other with such complexity and massiveness it is as crude a comparison as relating a simple wheel or lever to something as fantastic as a (yet) fictional faster-than-light starship.
And yet I still revel in it, awash, even drowning in such fantastic knowledge and access that – even if it were to vanish entirely, right now – my mind would gibber and reel at the incredibleness of it all for the rest of its days, forever changed. Leary was right! PC+internet > LSD!
Thanks, nerds and hackers everywhere. Have you ever been properly thanked? Or was the fact that the whole world pretty much just ran off with your countless inventions and started using them with gusto thanks enough for you?
Thanks DARPA/ARPA, and even the DoD. Thanks for letting the genie out, and making sure it couldn’t be put back in. Thanks Bell labs, thanks Xerox-PARC. Ma Bell? AT&T? G’way, you malingerers! Stern, strict great-grandfathers though you may be, a pox on you! Thanks MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and everyone else. Thanks Apple, Intel, and even Microsoft. Thanks, Linus Torvalds. Thanks, Wozniak. Thanks, Lee Felsenstein. Thanks, Google, and it’s long-lost batty great aunt who once lived in a dorm closet, Yahoo. Thank you, thank you, thank you CERN. And thanks to all the countless others I’ve missed, both large and small.
You probably won’t be able hear me among the riotous, delicious cacophony you’ve enabled, but… Thanks for everything.