May 15, 2010
On the bus ride home this afternoon I occupied myself by reading The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. (It’s a book worth reading. It may even possibly, perhaps get its own blog post in the future – maybe.) While reading, I came across the word encephalitic. I had a vague idea of what it meant, but I wanted a better understanding. I lay my book down and I pulled out my Nexus One (for those with technology agnosia, that’s a smartphone) and used it to pull up the Wikipedia page for encephalitis. If you’re web-savvy enough to be reading a blog, then you should know how the Wikipedia rabbit hole works. Still, for my readers that don’t know (Mom): halfway through an article, you find a link to another interesting article. That leads you to another, the process continues. In the end, you have a dozen open windows and a lot more trivial knowledge than you had thirty minutes ago.
The encephalitis article had a link to an article on photophobia. I know someone who suffers from this, though neither one of us was aware of the medical term. With a few taps, I texted them the link. The encephalitis article also had a link to an article on Oliver Sacks, the author of the book I was reading, so of course I followed that one. The article on Sacks mentioned his book Musicophilia, which I would like to read. That reminded me that I had not completed my order when I was sitting at my computer shopping for books on Amazon this morning. I switched to the Amazon App, added Musicophilia to my shopping cart, removed another book that I had added (from my home computer) this morning, and completed checkout. The article also mentioned that another Oliver Sacks book, Awakenings, had been made into a movie. I switched over to PhoneFlicks, an app that allows me to manage my Netflix account, and I added Awakenings to my queue. This all (research on Wikipedia, texting the link, ordering the book, queuing the movie) took about 15 minutes.
After doing all of this, I had to take a moment to appreciate the convenience that this one piece of technology has brought into my life. Decades ago, our visions of the future involved flying cars, colonization of far off planets, and other ideas that seemed exciting. In reality, the technology that is changing our culture is the technology that makes things more convenient for us. A flying car would be cool for a while – but a device that let’s me spend 15 minutes to accomplish what would have once required a trip to the library, the bookstore, and the video store is a device that is more than just cool and exciting – it’s useful.