There’s a message there

Several days ago having nothing to do on a colourless Saturday afternoon and shamelessly yearning for retail therapy, I wandered into a big box store. It required but seconds in my indifferent mission to uncover a proliferation of technological gizmos. Whatever we once knew about telephones, televisions, printers, radios and sound systems has been retired, reiterated and upgraded ten thousand fold in the most unimaginable configurations.  The acceleration is akin to a rocket launch. We only barely recall the bygone shelf displays of Gestetner machines, typewriters and fax machines, erstwhile inventions now considered hapless recyclables.

Ambling about the acreage of the store I was presently approached by a young, bright clerk who I later learned was 18 years of age.  She asked whether she might be of assistance to which I replied, “I’m looking for a toy“. This ambivalent intelligence was a short-sell on my part but not a mean-spirited jest. My keener objective was to lay bare the latest technology which I might incorporate to advantage in my personal vernacular and contemporaneously satisfy my wolfish curiosity for technology.  Given my less than tender years this might sound to be a mocking ambition.  Nonetheless there is sustaining history at play. Permit me if you will a thumbnail detour.

Many years ago on a wretched Saturday afternoon in February 1987 – back in the days when the most advanced contraption on the market was an IBM memory typewriter – I passed through the door of a computer store for the first time in my life.  I had succumbed to the prophetic urges of my brother-in-law (who worked for Corel™) to investigate the hype of a personal computer. The clerk who assisted me on that occasion was hopelessly hung-over though he made a sale.  He loaded the computer, accessories and manuals (DOS and WordPerfect) into the trunk of my sedan and cheerily waved me goodbye with the positive assurance that I need only “take it home and plug it in” – his exact words!  My troubles began immediately when I arrived home and discovered to my astonishment two keyboards in the trunk of my car. Knowing absolutely nothing about computers but having had a modest exposure to a pipe organ as a youth, I speculated that two keyboards were indispensable to the operation of a personal computer. Well! I hardly need add it was uphill from there!  Picture me days later lying in bed in a cold sweat wondering aloud what had I done!  The computer cost me $3,500 and I hadn’t a clue how to use it.

Naturally I eventually learned, painful though the education was.  I believe I was the first lawyer in Almonte (perhaps even Lanark County) to have a computer. This I rush to add is a small compliment and certainly no flattering reflection upon my foresight.  The fact is that most lawyers at that time delegated so much of their office duties to their staff (whereas I did a lot of my own work) that they were not yet alive to the advantages of these newfangled implements. I recall I had already begun using a fax machine (likely between 1980 – 1985) and it wasn’t long before I profited by the sting of a winter business slump to teach myself a modified version of AccPac (later called “Bedford”) for electronic bookkeeping and accounting to replace our old manual one-write system.

Following that baptismal initiation to technology I embraced it unreservedly.  The subsequent advent of the internet (then called the “information highway”) precipitated burgeoning opportunities including electronic registration of deeds and mortgages, on-line real estate title searching, title insurance, incorporation and corporate search reports. I recall the thrill of my first email! Though you would suppose this introduction would have completely softened me up for new technology I am embarrassed to say that I persisted for example to resist the “need” for a SmartPhone (which didn’t appear on the horizon until 1999) and clung to my old Nokia flip phone. My “disengagement” from modernity was to be short-lived. I now upgrade computers, SmartPhones and tablets regularly. I long ago abandoned the obstinacy that obsolescence is a marketing ploy.

So to return to my account about my excursion to the big box store, it was in this exceedingly approachable frame of mind that I dazzled myself with the newest devices on display. There was however one obstacle; and that was that in spite of my quip about looking for a new toy, I prided myself on never having used technology for amusement but rather to accomplish some useful purpose. With respect, I don’t for a minute consider that video games are a “useful purpose” except in the most sweeping sense. In any event I am not about to cultivate a gaming interest so I restrict myself to the goal of practical application.

No doubt you acknowledge the potency of the visual appeal of even these extraordinary devices. A good deal of the marketing of an apparatus is directed to the appearance of the hardware. Being as I am a confessed sucker for bling of almost any description it will not surprise you that I felt a particular attraction to the assortment of watches. Of course these modern watches – like the modern telephone – do much more than what they were originally intended to do. A more accurate description of the latest watch would be a wrist-computer. The celebrated Apple Watch™ for example can answer and make telephone calls, check the weather, read and reply to texts and emails, monitor your heart rate, track your fitness and measure calories burned, send drawings or silly faces to your friends, receive notification that you left the living room lights on, pay bills, get GPS directions, review photos, lock and unlock your car, listen to music, use it as an alarm clock and of course tell the time.

If you wonder who in their right mind would need to have all that capability attached to their wrist, I cannot disagree (as much as that may shock you).  The point however isn’t a question of either want or need; rather it is an acknowledgement of change and evolution. Say what you will, it might one day prove a supreme delight to be able to unlock your car with your watch, not to mention a supercilious glance at your wrist to check an email instead of having to suffer the indignity of retrieving your iPhone from your pocket or purse!

The particular gadget which I ended buying is primarily for tracking athletic activity, in my case recreational bicycling (distance, route, time, speed and calories burned).  The watch also monitors how many walking steps I take in a day which if nothing else encourages me to do more. I am the first to confess I haven’t begun to harness the potential of this little device (and I probably won’t make any great effort to do so except either accidentally or parenthetically). But what matters to me is that I have confronted the mystery of the instrument. As much as one may venerate a horse-drawn carriage there is nonetheless recognizable advantage to learning to drive an automobile.

Oh, and just in case it matters, I still enjoy bicycling on a single-speed cruiser with a large cushioned saddle.  It is after all the exercise that matters!