The new phone

by Brian Clarey

They came in the mail on Friday, an overnight delivery of Promethean proportion in a package the size of a lunchbox. I’d been waiting for it less than 24 hours, and still I was jumpy with anticipation.

New phones. Fancy new phones, the very latest in cellular technology, with 8 gigs of memory, an apps list that tops 100,000 and a hi-def camera and movie player that came pre-loaded with an Academy Award-winning blockbuster, to view at my convenience. Two of them — one for me and one for my wife, but a huge moment for our whole family.

For one, it marks perhaps the final consolidation of our lives, which have been intertwined for more than 13 years now. We’ve shared our lives, shared an address, shared a bank account, and now we finally share a phone plan. Our oldest child, who burst into tweenhood these past few months, now has his own line. That’s another milestone — there is not yet a consensus on when to give a child his first phone; we saw it as an opportunity to acknowledge growth and increased responsibility, a way for him to build his social circle, a must-have accessory for middle school, which starts in just a few weeks.

He’s spent the past few days trying to figure out how to make the thing fart.

My wife and I have been all about our new phones for the last few days as well, downloading apps, mapping better driving routes with GPS, trying to get the devices to actually make phone calls.

I found this thing that can listen to a song — any song — and tell you what it is, who played it and the year it came out. I remain astounded by this function, even after an intern mocked my wonder.

“I’ve been working that for like two years,” he said. Harumph. Admittedly I’m no technophile, a chronically late adopter for reasons of stubbornness and fiscal prudence. Our desktop computer, recently deceased, would be entering fourth grade if it were a child. My laptop, dear to me as it is, is a grandfather in the extended Apple family. For many, many years, all I expected from my phone was that it made and received phone calls.

But now… now I can keep tabs on everything from my bank accounts to my Facebook. I can find the cheapest gas within a hundred miles. I can read the New York Times, listen to my music and podcasts, browse vintage comics, take home movies and blast them out to the world. I can call up the very stars in the evening sky via Google, locate the nearest coffee shop in seconds and, if I go there enough, become mayor of the damn place.

I know, I know: I am late to the party. But this phone astounds me.

I’m like a monkey with a magnet with this thing.

The kids — and for these purposes, by “kids” I mean anyone under 40 years old — just don’t get it. I mean, I grew up with computers. The learning center at my elementary school had them, but we had to load programs in with cassette tapes and it took forever. I remember when the 8-inch floppy disks started groaning out bytes at what seemed like the speed of light. I remember the beeper, for cryin’ out loud, and the original Macintosh computers, all the rage when I was a freshman in college, that ushered in the desktop-publishing revolution on its bluetinged screen long before the internet was even a gleam in Al Gore’s eye.

I came slow to the internet, too, even as it both eviscerated and liberated my chosen profession.

When I started as a freelancer, I sold stories using the telephone, a typewriter and the US Mail. I burned up the dial-up with my first e-mail account, an Earthlink I believe, which was so much better than the fax machine I sometimes used at Kinko’s.

We got our first cell phone in 1998, big as a chalkboard eraser, and even though all it could do was make calls, we marveled at the technology.

But this thing I hold in my hands now… slimmer than my wallet, more powerful than any desktop computer I’ve ever owned, more versatile than a Pocket Fisherman and faster than the speed of sound — about one mile per five seconds, a factoid I just looked up on my new phone, shaking my head in amazement in much the same way I imagine my great-grandmother, who was born in 1900, did on her first commercial airline flight.

It won’t stop here, I know. These devices are getting tinier and tinier.

I figure soon we’ll have microscopic computers flowing in our veins, blasting cancers with mini lasers and aiding in our digestion of food and knitting wounds and broken bones. In 50 years or so we’ll contact our loved ones just by thinking their names.

Maybe sooner. My new phone already can conjure up my wife’s name if I just say it aloud — if I can figure out how to make the function work, that is.