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Jewish World Review
January 30, 2008
/ 23 Shevat 5768
I can tech it or leave it
When it comes to new consumer technologies, I am not what industry experts refer to as an "early adopter." If anything, I'd say I'm more like an "early disparager."
"Would you look at that guy?" I'll often remark to my wife with disgust upon seeing some techno hipster in public sporting the requisite "Bluetooth" headset in one ear and an "iPod" earpiece in the other texting away on his "BlackBerry" handheld as he cruises by in a "Segway" scooter and casually glances at his "digital" watch. "Whatever happened to simple one-on-one, face-to-face, human interaction?" My wife, however, has learned to tune out these comments by becoming engrossed in her own cell phone conversation.
In fact, when they first came out, cell phones bore the brunt of my distaste for technological fads. I remember practically straining my optic nerves rolling my eyes at the people who felt compelled to share with everyone within a quarter-mile radius the boring minutiae of their lives, graphic descriptions of their latest gastrointestinal troubles or, most commonly, the repeated refrains of "Can you hear me now? How about now? What about now?" And anyone who offered a polite, "Um, I'm sorry, but the funeral service has begun," would be quickly silenced with a hostile glare that said, "Do you mind? Can't you see I'm on the phone?"
Of course, I always eventually join the masses and grudgingly buy whatever gizmo the rest of the world embraced long ago. I am proud to say, however, that although I own a cell phone, I have not become one of the obnoxious jerks who turn every restaurant, crowded subway car, church service or hospital operating room into their own personal phone booth. No doubt I would, except that I rarely remember to bring my cell phone with me when I leave the house.
My technophobic pattern held true with another recent innovation, those GPS car navigation tools that plot every turn on the way to whatever destination you've keyed in. While friends extolled the virtues of these devices, explaining that they never get lost anymore, no longer fumble with maps, avoid traffic jams, have less stress in their relationships, etc., I remained unmoved. "Not for me," I said. "I like finding my own way on the road. I enjoy looking at maps and planning my route. And I love getting into shouting matches with my wife in the car about why I never listen to her and always get us lost, which is why we're always late and no one ever invites us out anymore."
Since receiving a GPS navigation device for Christmas, however, I've changed my tune entirely. My wife programmed it to speak with an Irish female voice, so wherever we go these days it's as if we're being led there by Sinead O'Connor. In between instructions in her brogue to "turn right, up ahead" and "after 400 yards, keep left" I half expect to hear the occasional criticism about the pope.
But the best thing about "Sinead" is that, in addition to providing perfect directions, she's entirely nonjudgmental. If she tells me to go left, but I go right instead, she doesn't take it personally. There's no "I said left, you idiot! Don't you know your left from right? Maybe you don't really want to go to this baby shower - is that it?" Instead, she merely recalibrates, silently adjusting to my implicitly superior navigational judgment.
I've heard that, for a fee, some GPS devices allow users to download celebrity voices. I don't know which celebs are available, but my first choice would be Patrick Stewart from "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Who wouldn't feel more confident driving around with Captain Picard's imperious voice intoning, "Prepare to exit the motorway in 100 yards ... in 50 yards ... in 20 yards, and ... ENGAGE!"
My only concern about these navigational tools is that they almost make driving too easy. Today's drivers simply do not need additional justification for passing the time behind the wheel talking on the phone, fiddling with the radio, applying makeup, clipping toenails, playing Jenga, napping, etc.
But instead of fearing technology's march, we should eagerly anticipate the next generation of GPS tools that will do much more than merely provide directions. Specifically, I look forward to hand-held devices that will calculate which checkout line at the grocery store is moving the fastest, inform you as soon as the buffet is restocked with fresh cheddar cheese cubes, automatically remind you when the refrigerator is running low on beer, and flash a warning at a party about the impending arrival of an ex-boyfriend, cigar smoker or anyone who has a side business selling Amway products.
Enticing as such a tool would be, for me to get on board would require one more feature: it would still have to function when I leave the house without it.
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JWR contributor Malcolm Fleschner is a humor columnist for The DC Examiner. Let him know what you think by clicking here.
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09/12/07: Houston, we have an image problem
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06/13/07: You gonna eat that?
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05/02/07:You Are (not) Getting Sleepy...
04/18/07: No time like Father Time
03/15/07: Deface the Nation
03/08/07: More gifts? You shouldn't have
02/22/07: Relationships can be such a chore
12/05/06: Who's calling the shots?
11/09/06: I'm taking selling to a whole new level
10/27/06: Some skills are beyond repair
10/18/06: You can't tech it with you
10/04/06: Award to the wise
08/24/06: Phrased and Confused
08/09/06: We're Gonna Party Like it's $19.99
07/19/06: Just Singing in the Brain
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© 2006, Malcolm Fleschner