Jewish World Review July 7, 1999 /23 Tamuz 5759
No news there, right?
This particular elderly man, as he was buying the cream cheese, was on a cellular phone. Right in the supermarket aisle. He would pick up a container of cream cheese, read the label into the phone, find the price and read that into the phone, too. . . .
And then move on to the next container of cream cheese.
It wasn't difficult to figure out what he was doing -- he was describing the different packages of cream cheese to his wife, who was at home. She had sent him to the store to pick some things up -- and there he was, comparison shopping via satellite, debating the qualities of the brands of cream cheese with his wife via the cell phone hookup.
For a second I found myself thinking: Is this why John Glenn and Alan Shepard and Neil Armstrong risked their lives? To go into space and usher in a new era in which. . . .
Nice old men shop for cream cheese while they talk to their wives using satellite technology?
This came to mind the other morning, as I was on my way through Kentucky en route to Cincinnati.
A couple of college students from the University of Louisville were giving me a ride; I was due at a big outdoor concert in Cincinnati, and I was in kind of a hurry, and the only way I was going to get up-to-the-minute information about the concert was by listening to the radio station that was sponsoring it.
Trouble was, I had no idea where on the dial the station was. I knew its call letters -- WGRR -- and I knew that it specialized in rock music from the '50s and '60s. But as we tried to find the station on the car's radio, we couldn't -- we were unable to locate WGRR.
Now . . . this used to be one of the great parts about driving around during the summer. You're in a part of the country you're not familiar with, you're looking for some good music, you search up and down the radio dial for the songs you like the most -- it was this great little treasure hunt, trying to pull just the right sounds out of the air.
Which is what we were trying to do on this recent summer morning, with no luck. When, all of a sudden, a phone rang.
It was my phone. In the car. The cell phone in my suitcase was ringing; I pulled it out and answered, and it was my office back in Chicago, calling with a message.
I took the message -- in rural Kentucky, the voice from the Tribune office in Chicago came out of the sky and into this tiny phone in the car -- and I got an idea.
"Are you logged onto the Internet right now?" I asked the person who had called.
She said yes.
"Do me a favor," I said. "Type `WGRR radio' into the search engine."
She said she would. Within 10 seconds -- maybe it was just five seconds -- she said: "Oldies 103.5 FM. Cincinnati, Ohio."
"Thank you," I said. The student driving turned the radio to 103.5, the voice of the disc jockey on WGRR filled the car, and soon enough we had the information about the concert we had been looking for (in addition to a fine rendition of Freddy Cannon singing "Palisades Park").
The John Glenn-Alan Shepard-Neil Armstrong question again:
Is this where the technology was supposed to take us? Into a world where you can find Freddy Cannon and Lesley Gore and the Beach Boys a little quicker than if you had to fine-tune the car radio mile by mile? Is this why the brilliant men and women who devised the worldwide computer network toiled so tirelessly -- so that a person in Chicago could search an impossibly vast data base and within seconds come up with the exact dial location of the oldies station in Cincinnati, and communicate that information to a moving car in Kentucky?
And if so, is this really a better summer world than the one where you were on your own trying to find the music you love?
Who knows. Certainly neither I nor the man in the cream cheese aisle (who, it should be noted, seemed very much in love with his wife on the other end of the cellular cream cheese connection).
A thought with which to leave you:
At certain Hilton hotels, you can now watch CNN broadcasts live.
In the elevators.
Really. Don't ask why. The smartest people in the
world worked day and night so you could see 17
seconds of live news on your way from the lobby
to the 6th floor. Be
07/02/99: The perfect spokesman for the American way