If I push this button, I get the weather forecast. For Oslo. In Greek. This button takes a photo of my face from the inside. Push this one and a bomb goes off in Kabul. I think this one causes a Swiss Army knife to pop out. In case you are wondering what I am attempting to do – I am operating this gift from my children. It’s an Ipad2, or maybe an iPadTwo or a LaunchingPad3-2-1.
I was never good in operating the newest black boxes, but it’s not my fault and I shall briefly explain why. It might make you feel better, too. First, some necessary background: It is a little known fact, and justifiable so, that the very first person in the world to buy a Windows 95 software program was a 19 year old business student in New Zealand by the name of Jonathan Prentice.
Others followed and at the end of that first day, Aug. 23, 1995, some $30 million worth of the Microsoft program had been sold. By the end of that year 20 million copies, at roughly $85 each, were purchased, enough to ensure Microsoft’s chief, Bill Gates, a reasonably secure future.
Even today the rush continues as PC, iPad, iPhone, iPod and semaphore geeks fight to be the first in their Boy Scout troop to own the latest toy. They line up in the freezing dark on sidewalks outside stores to purchase some box, made by 12-year-olds in China that has a catchy name and high price. And do they buy ‘em. Example: Apple has just announced it sold more than 4 million of its new iPhone 4S models in the first three days they were on sale. That’s the most ever sold for any phone and more than double the iPhone 4 launch during its first three days.
But now nerds in Palo Alto are working on the iPhone 5, because these gadgets have a short shelf life. I am always afraid that when I take my latest iGizmo out of the box, someone will say, “Oh, you have one of those old things. The Smithsonian was asking about it.”
Any new purchase of these technological Tinker Toys comes with books – plural — of instructions, diagrams and an 800 number to call when all else fails. All else always fails, so we call Singapore and get Ed Earl, he so claims, who can hardly speak English, and 45 minutes later we are in tears trying to make our latest $2,500 iJunk work.
When we buy a toaster, it arrives with a small pamphlet written by lawyers warning us not to stick a fork in the bread slot. My favorite is the hair dryer which carries the warning not to use it in the shower or bathtub. Here is an actual PC owner’s manual that begins with, “Your modem offers a range of internationally accepted standard modulation methods and protocols. It utilizes WinRPI software based V.42/MNP 2 4 error control and V.42 bis/MNP 5 data compression.” If a toaster’s manual read that way, you would return the toaster. What’s more, have you heard of toasters getting a virus?
I have a PC guru, Marty, on speed dial. He is at my house about once a month to fix the Computer From Dell. Do you have a garbage disposal guru on call? Does LeRoy, the alarm clock wizard, make regular visits to your house, manual and tool kit in hand?
Ah, but why, exactly, are our PCs, Windows, iThis and iThat so unreliable and moody? Because they are not the cutting edge of scientific technology, not the end-all, be-all of the 21st Century. There is something left to invent. You see, these latest instruments are actually very crude. They are just in their early stages, and our grandchildren will laugh uproariously at our ancient axes.
How crude? Let’s compare life spans. Remember that Jonathan Prentice bought the first Microsoft Widows 95 some 16 years ago. The U.S.’s first scheduled commercial airline flight was on Jan. 1, 1914. In Windows’ years, airlines today would be at the 1930 stage. Thirty years ago, on Aug. 12, 1981, IBM first introduced its microcomputer, and that is regarded as the opening of computer season. Henry Ford sold his first car in 1896. After 30 years, the same time span of improvements, would you send your family off to Disneyland in a 1926 Ford?
The first regular scheduled TV programming was begun by General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y., on May 11, 1928. Think of your PC as a black and white DuMont TV set with a six inch screen, and think of the latest Windows as rabbit ears. The original iPhone was introduced in the U.S. on June 29, 2007. That breakthrough is now brokethrough: We’re into the fifth generation of iPhones, so you can junk that four-year-old antique. Still got your original Walkman? It’s 32 years old, which is where Xerox was in 1938. Oct. 23 was the10th anniversary of the iPod. Our war in Afghanistan is 16 days longer.
It is foolish to assume these babies are born as adults, honed to perfection. Nor is your latest magical miracle user-friendly. Blackberries went down worldwide recently and the mother company offered $100 million in apps to mollify irate customers.
Even the computers and such in stores are toddlers in need of a change. How many times have you been told by a bank teller or shop clerk, “I’m sorry but our computers are down.”? They never say that about their vacuum cleaners. So don’t feel the world has passed you by because you can’t operate the MegaX Y-76 which cheats the IRS and fakes your death.
Here’s another example: If I tap on this icon, it either contacts my pest controller or flosses my teeth. I’m not sure which. When you get stumped, and can’t make your iThing text to the cloud via your 1080p HD video, do as I do: ask your children.
Ashby is obsolete in at email@example.com