Opinion

From typewriters to smartphones | Wally's World

By Wally DuChateau

Columnist

I learned to type on a manual typewriter that had 50 keys. Then, before I turned around twice, there were electric typewriters, which were an improvement of sorts, but not much. The real "astounding" advance came with the computer and spell-check and the printer which, unfortunately, relegated 70 percent of the nation's secretaries to the trash pile.   Such is the price of progress and revolutions.

Today, my computer has 113 keys. Yet, the most I ever use is 52. That's 61 keys I never used and have no earthly idea what they do.

Similarly, back in the day, my microwave had a timer-dial and that was it. There were no other controls. A current Sears' model has 33 buttons, few of which make any sense to me. What the hell is "Lbs Defrost" and how does it differ from "Auto Defrost"? And what, pray tell, is "Control Lock" or "Mini-Options"? Really now, all I want to do is pop some popcorn.

With the digital revolution, nearly all of our products have become increasingly complex. I suspect this has something to do with our consumer-oriented culture. We always want more stuff for our money, so manufactures think they have to provide more and more functions.

Take as another example, the iPhone. It has such an array of features, it's original, core function of talking to someone is nearly lost in the mess. Now admittedly, taking iPhone photos of a natural disaster or an auto accident or a crime while it is being committed might be of considerable value but, generally speaking, I have no use for this option. (If I'm going on a vacation, I'll take a camera, thank you.) Similarly, I generally have no use for Internet access on my phone, though I can recall one instance in which it helped solve an argument I was having with a friend. Neither do I have any desire to play any digital games. And, strange enough, there's no one I have to text because I'd rather talk to them – which, I'll remind you again, is the original purpose of the phone.

Nevertheless, I'm quite thrilled – and I'm compelled to repeat this – I'm absolutely thrilled that the iPhone can perform all these operations. It's wonderful that you have immediate access to the New York Stock Exchange but, personally, I have no use for this. In like manner, I honestly find it's quite splendid that you can call up a movie. I mean, 20 years ago who would have thought such a thing would ever be possible. Yet, I prefer my movies in a theater or at least on a 40-inch TV. Watching them on a 2-inch screen seems ridiculous to me.

In the old days, if your typewriter, microwave or phone went haywire, you could take it back to the dealer and he'd fix it.   Today, of course, there's no such thing;  instead, we merely throw it away – as if we don't have enough garbage already –and buy a new one, which will be a vastly improved model because in the last few months the latest model has acquired another 20 or 30 new functions.

And, if you understand all these operations, unlike myself, and if you've mastered their use, unlike myself, then you're optimally prepared for the coming age in which man and computer will become ever more, indivisibly, fused together.

But in the interim, just give me a phone I can talk on.

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