O brave new world!
(FORTUNE Magazine) – ON MY FIRST DAY IN THIS JOB OF mine that has metastasized into such a beast over the years, I was asked to write a memo about the Company's plans to get into high-speed modem reading over dedicated coaxial cable. Don't ask.
I called up my boss and said, "Excuse me, Mr. Bresnahan, I've looked in the dictionary, and I can't find any mention of this word 'modem.' What's a modem?"
"What are you asking me for?" said the Chairman. "That's why I have you there." I had to ask four guys in the tech department before I found somebody geeky enough to tell me what a modem was.
Now I don't even have a modem. Nobody does. We've gone over and around and way past it, and we're shooting out of some kind of crazy pipe into the great blue yonder, and you know what? I like it.
Instead of a dorky modem that whistles and buzzes when it grinds into a landline, I have a neat gizmo inside my laptop that allows me to beam my files to anybody in the world via a Wi-Fi connection, usually when I'm having a cup of genetically engineered coffee. Do people really appreciate how weird and amazing this is?
Like, I am sitting on the 8:14 train writing this on a laptop that weighs about as much as the brisket my mom made for Thanksgiving last year. It wasn't a very big piece of beef, because she also served a turkey that tipped the scales at 16 pounds, just about the same as the old Kaypro lunchbox I used to have to haul around if I wanted to get any work done. That big, hairy metal box! How I loved it! It was as big as one of those plastic American Tourister overnighters. It ran DOS, and you had to boot it up with a floppy. Now, when I get to the office, I'm going to download this file into a dongle. My dongle holds nearly a gigabyte of information, so it's thousands of times more capacious than my floppy ever was. We used to joke about how our floppies were bigger than the guys' down the hall. Now I guess I could say I'm proud that my dongle is smaller than yours.
My cellphone is in my right front breast pocket. It's probably a lot like yours. It sports a variety of ringtones, plays games, takes photographs and videos, and can connect me to anybody in the world with a pretty darned good connection. Great, right? Sure. But I'm starting to hate it already. It's so clumsy and fat. I saw one of those little Motorola RAZRs the other day. That cool chip of metal is even smaller than the six-gig iPod Nano that recently replaced the puny, four-gig Mini--about the size of a playing card cut in two. Any smaller and it could be surgically implanted, as I'm sure it will be one day.
Yes, I want a RAZR and I want a Nano, and what I want I eventually acquire. That's part of our situation too: See it. Want it. Get it. And so the world improves. For a little while. And then? On to the next! Because you gotta.
Take my e-mail companion from BlackBerry. It's about a year old now. It's one of the slender units with a big screen, and I like it, but I know I'm going to have to transcend it soon. The other day I went into a wireless store in Los Angeles in search of a charger, because battery life is still an issue we have to resolve on our way to digital nirvana.
Bill and Ted were behind the counter, each with a soul patch and spiky hair. They looked at my plastic friend. "Man!" Ted exclaimed as Bill looked on with an expression of mingled contempt and empathy. "This is a really old BlackBerry, man!" I felt a stab of resentment and shame. Time for something new, I guess. Why fight it? Great white sharks, they need to move forward, eating as they go. And we must do the same, or risk losing access to the peripheral equipment that keeps us running. The definition of senescence in our hyperconnected culture is clear: It's when things can no longer be recharged. Then they die.
But until then--oh, my friends, what wonders they perform and we take for granted. Not long ago we performed our tasks in a linear fashion. No longer! This laptop can do it all at once--edit photos and send them wirelessly to printers whose output rivals that of the glossiest fashion rag, and accumulate all the music I could ever want and beam it to speakers or phones that blast my head off while I peck away on the keyboard and keep an eye on what's transpiring in the blogosphere. All the world in a tiny box!
We are all surfing on a huge wave of the New. And we're now so far from shore there's really no point in heading back.
In a couple of minutes I'll get off this train. Ugh. It's raining outside, plump dollops of water that look cold and mean and hard. I'd much rather stay inside right here, with the universe at my fingertips.
Weather. It's so analog. We're really going to have to do something about it, you know? As soon as we can, I mean.
STANLEY BING's latest book, Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the REAL Art of War (HarperBusiness), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.