In Tune: Stopping to smell the digital roses

In Tune: Stopping to smell the digital roses

November 21st, 2013 by Casey Phillips in Chattnow Outabout

A few weeks ago, I met one of my girlfriend's sisters for the first time, and the experience left me dumbfounded.

I wasn't baffled by our meeting - she was lovely - but by how it took place. It wasn't in person, and it wasn't over the phone.

It was via a video chat. On two couches more than 400 miles away from one another.

For those unfamiliar with software such as Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangouts, the services allow two or more people to stream video feeds between compatible, camera-equipped devices. In my case, we used my girlfriend's iPhone and her sister's iPad.

At first, it was a bit awkward. Because of how the camera is positioned, if you look directly at the other person's on-screen image, you appear to them to be supremely interested in something perched on their shoulders. Eventually, we became used to the ocular acrobatics, however, after which my girlfriend used her phone's rear-facing camera to stage an impromptu guided tour of her apartment.

The whole experience lasted all of 20 minutes, and not to sound all "gee whiz" and provincial, but it blew my mind.

I've known about video conferencing for years - Apple unveiled FaceTime at the iPhone 4 announcement in 2010 - but mainstream adoption still hasn't happened. I could count the Hangouts and FaceTime conversations I've witnessed on one hand, and that's after spending a lot of time around techies.

The point is, it's amazing something like this is even possible. With the rapid pace of technological advances, it's easy to lose sight of the almost magical qualities of the devices we already own.

Less than 20 years ago, mine wouldn't have been the only mind blown by "meeting" someone for the first time using handheld computers more than 10 times as fast as the Cray 1 supercomputer, the fastest in the world when it was built in 1976. Even 50 years ago, the fact that the conversation happened on cordless devices would have astonished all on its own.

Now, we take this - and so much more about the technology we rely on - for granted. The original iPhone now seems hopelessly outclassed by "modern" smartphones, but when it debuted just six years ago, it was like "Star Trek" come to life.

I'm always feverishly anticipating announcements for new gadgets, but I welcome the moments when I'm left slack-jawed by what we already have. Am I sad that I'll never get to make an in-person first impression with my girlfriend's sister? Yes, but I'm glad meeting her made me stop and smell the digital roses.

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.