Ah, the good old days. A time when smartphones were just PDA’s with hormone imbalances.
A time of basic cell phones, brick-thick cameras, and camcorders barely big enough to require a hand strap.
I remember all this old tech like it was yesterday, and for one simple reason: I still used all of them until recently.
Until about a month ago, I used the same basic cell phone I got for free back in 2008.
Absolutely nothing special, the bare bones MetroPCS phone enabled one-handed dialing and texting without even looking at the screen.
One thumb and dome. I mean, done.
That primitive device was brutally brilliant for yours truly because it was essentially “dope resistant”. It withstood a 45-MPH launch from a Lincoln Town Car’s hood with nary a scratch. I lost it dozens of times, once for two days. Yet I would invariably find it again and continue to beat it like a red-headed stepchild.
In time it was scratched, kicked, dropped, thrown, and beaten all to hell.
I treasured it. With each passing month, that miniature screen would get a little bit more faded and dim. Sometimes – not often…maybe once a month – the screen would freeze up or a button would stick.
No worries. At least not for a guy in a time warp. Even a few minutes of downtime each month was not nearly enough for me to invest in modern smartphones. Five-hundred dollars for a friggin’ phone? Ha! Not from this frugal zealot!
Then something happened…
I left it on top of a Subaru Outback and gave the keys to one of my customers. After a ten-minute test drive I heard the words that would change the course of my technological future.
“Steve, I really like this Outback. But I heard this strange clunking sound when I made my first turn. Are the CV joints okay?”
“Ummmm… I think it was my cell phone.”
A futile search on the nearby intersection yielded nothing more than a shocking amount of litter, and mild amusement from the passersby.
The time had come.
It was September 19th, 2013, and the cost of not having a phone for my business was far more dire than the relatively low cost of buying a good phone…a damn good phone…maybe even…the best phone?
So I powered up my fully-functional 2001 Pentium 4 with Windows XP and Googled “cell phones” and “best.” A relentless assault of one-worded responses confronted me:
It was not because the iPhone was better than the Galaxy S4, which was better than the HTC One, which was…. what the hell are all these things?
No, it was because Apple was releasing the new iPhone 5C and 5S models the next day.
So I went to Wal-Mart.
And the AT&T store.
And Best Buy.
But the iPhone 5S was nowhere to be found. It was worse than Chrysler’s release of the new Jeep Cherokee. I couldn’t find this thing in my neck of the woods to save my ass from first base.
I had to do something, anything, to get a decent cell phone.
I Facebooked. I called friends. I contacted people that I’m not even sure are my friends anymore.
One guy offered me a phone, but batteries were no longer available for that (2007) model. However, the teenage girl working at the battery store was my savior. She ducked in the back and emerged with something small, pink, and adorned with a Hello Kitty sticker.
I quietly sighed, but left with a new battery and the following phone for $40.
The damn thing’s called a lollipop.
Back in 2010 these phones were state-of-the-art…for the low end. But it could do pictures, voice, and even send your photos off to Kodak.
Kodak! Damn! I was hitting the big time!
Within two days, I had it deciphered and was busy texting and calling away. The flip design would keep the sub-two-inch screen in stellar shape. All would be well again in my world.
Until, that is, I attended a nearby media event. Here, I realized brutal truth of my Luddite life.
I was the sole guy at the event without a smartphone. Not only that, I was the only journalist not typing away before the event began.
When the new car rolled out, they simply snapped photos with their phones and sent them.
To online publications…to their social media pages…and probably a half-dozen other places thanks to various apps.
Me? I go and unsheath a 2005, 5-megapixel Sony digital camera, whose lens extends like a three-inch probe. I wait for the right exposure, take two pictures, and then the thing spontaneously seizes up in my hand like the relic it is.
Confession time: It wasn’t always like this for me; I used to be a hardcore technophile.
Twenty years ago, I was the first student at my college with a laptop. Thanks to it helping me overcome a fine motor impairment, my grades skyrocketed. That’s Wayne by the way…
Technology was a beautiful thing in my life, and I almost accepted an offer with an IT consulting firm before my love for cars took over.
The car business, and the interrelated world of auto auctions, became my career, and I eventually became a ”tool guy” technologically.
If the hammer works, just keep on using it. Because “new” means “money”. And “nearly-new” means “nearly free.” And “old” means durable and often perfect for my limited needs.
A lot of long-time auto enthusiasts look at cars in much the same way. Older vehicles, especially those past a decade or even two, can perform the same functions as new models for a fraction of the cost.
Then again, you do miss a few pieces of technology as you go back in time: navigation, stability control, airbags. Everything from the steel polymers used to make vehicles, to the maintenance requirements for a daily driver, have changed substantially within the last ten years.
So here’s my question: Where do you draw the automotive line between old and new? Does a car with ABS, traction control, and dent resistant panels, like a 1992 Saturn, earn the right to be seen as a contemporary? Or does it have to Sync, Link, CUE and Think with mobile and hands-free technologies?
Where do you draw that line?
Oh, and if you happen to have a spare gold iPhone 5S with 30 times more gigabytes than my “pre-Ipod” computer, feel free to let me know.