Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Apple Calls it Quits (a "what if" exploration)

It is never a good sign when a blog entry begins with a disclaimer. And yet, I offer up the following: I am not a technologist, but I love technology. My wife and I still use our VCR (sometimes). My iPhone was a birthday present, but I almost cried when I dropped it within the first week of having it. I do not have HDTV. Clearly not an expert, I am, I’d say, an observer. A lite-social-networking, twittering, blogging, account planner. I like the conversation. I am fascinated more by the social implications of technology than by the wizardry of the mechanism. I offer this up as a canvas, a backdrop for the conversation I’m keen on having.

In the unlikely event you’ve been living on a planet other than ours for the past couple weeks, you will have undoubtedly been witness to the launch of the iPhone3Gs (the greatest, fastest, most powerful of the 3G's, now with cut and paste!). The frenzy this launch stirred amuses and confuses me. People were once again lined up, huffy and aggressive outside of Apple and AT&T stores for hours. I mean, like 12 hours or more. And others have been expressing for months their plans to get the new device right away. Give their first gen iPhone to the missus, to a kid, to eBay. It didn’t really matter, so long as there was a place for it to go to justify the new purchase.

But as I sat there, with my own suddenly ancient piece of handheld networking iCapability, I wondered, what if the folks at Apple just closed their doors? What if Steve Jobs pulled a Wonka, and just…no more. Aside from the obvious economic ramifications (unemployment, the cost of switching various hardwares) and the disappointment of MacJunkies like myself who will miss out on new designs, and the feeling of “us” that comes with aligning yourself with this anti-PC community. Also, let’s limit this to personal technologies so that the discussion doesn’t meander into the need for medical advancements or better aviation. If we’re just talking about our everyday, humdrum hardware needs and usage, I wonder what we’d be missing. Aren’t our computers fast enough? Can’t we find what we hope to find? Don’t we have enough access? Enough games? Couldn’t we conceivably have full, prosperous, connected lives if personal technologies did not advance beyond this point?

I know Ray Kurzweil's answer. Help me out here, followers of Singularity. What would the argument be? That it is inevitable that technology must continue, must advance because the merging of humanity and machinery will bring about our best-self evolution. But I’m posing what if we put on the brakes at this point? What if we stop now?

What if we thought more about Sherry Turkle’s approach? What if we question what the relationships people are developing with technology? Turkle argues that:

Our new intimacies with our machines create a world where it makes sense to speak of a new state of the self. When someone says, 'I'm on my cell,' 'online,' 'on instant messaging,' or 'on the web,' these phrases suggest a new placement of the subject, a subject wired into social existence through technology, a tethered self. I think of tethering as the way we connect to always-on communication devices and to the people and things we reach through them.

Wow. Look at the big brain on Brett! (aside: I am fully prepared to be schooled on both Kurzweil and Turkle. I don’t mean in any way to dumb down or reduce their thinking. Both are worth studying and understanding in any way possible.) The truth is I wonder if we need new technologies to continue driving us toward a new kind of connection. Some would argue that the new connectivity exchanges human contact for honest conversation. That although we don’t see one another, we feel more free to express our truest thoughts, to let our id run free, to say what’s really on our minds because it’s not really us, it’s our online selves. The converse to that is that people need to learn to interact eye to eye. That our humanness is critical to our survival as a species. What I’m asking is shouldn’t we work on learning to make direct, personal, actual human connections, decisions, negotiations before lining up to get the next gadget that will do it all for us? It’s like Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm says in Jurassic Park: “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.”

Now the twist. Although it seems I’m arguing against the development of more technology, I am more trying to start a dialogue. Keep in mind, I love my laptop, my iPhone, the ability to text. To tweet. To post to tumblr. To videochat my wife and two kids from the road. To cleverly update my status on facebook. And so on. So, talk to me. Tell me. Instruct me. I could use it. I’m earnestly inquiring as to what we’d be missing if we could pause personal technology development at this point in time and make due with where we’ve arrived.

the thoughts and opinions expressed below are entirely my own, and are not necessarily shared by my friends, family, or employer. (though they very well might be...)