MY PHONE’S stuffed, and I’ve got to buy a new one. Being young, white and middle class, I’m genetically predisposed to Apple products, so the iPhone seems the natural choice. And oh, I’ve seen what these babies can do. I’ve salivated over the full-colour GPS maps, marvelled at the pinch-zoom and blushed over the vibe app. And yet, I can’t bring myself to buy one of the things. In the back of my head there’s a little voice that says, “Do you really need all that crap?”
I call this voice my inner old codger.
You know who I’m talking about – the great great grandfather who’s wheeled out for family reunions. He has a face like a bleached prune and an internal clock set to 1935. He won’t try anything new, hates technology and starts every sentence with “Back in my day…” But while most old codgers romanticise life before the war (WW1 or WW2, depending on just how old your codger is), the voice in my head harks back to a golden era six years ago. And you know what? Sometimes the senile bastard has a point.
Back in my day, 2004, a phone was a phone. You used it to call people, and maybe send messages. Now a phone is an MP3 player, a camera, a web browser, a personal organiser, a USB stick and a detonation device for tech-savvy terrorists. You hold one in your hands and wonder what the fuck you’ve just bought. With its touch screen face, Cyclops eye and electronic orifices, the iPhone looks like a tiny digital alien. It scares the crap out of me.
Back in my day, 2004, the internet was a lot simpler. Sure, it didn’t have the breadth of content (you could source “interracial midget porn” but not yet “interracial red-headed midget porn”). But it also didn’t have a trillion tedious blogs, mash-ups and web cam diary entries to distract you from what you were looking for (again, probably porn). This was before Web 2.0; before YouTube, Facebook and Twitter; before self-obsessed teens everywhere decided to broadcast their pimply problems to the world. Although most people still used the internet to procrastinate, there was at least the potential for productivity.
Back in 2004, opinions were longer than 140 characters. Back in 2004, spam was manageable. Back in 2004, “poking a friend” meant physical contact (and if you were a guy and the friend was a girl, physical contact between two very specific body parts).
Yes, 2004 was a special time, and I look back on it as the technical and ethical peak of civilisation. Then an uncomfortable thought occurs. For me to be nostalgic about 2004, a lot must have changed in six years. And the old codger in my head can’t help questioning the impact such rapid change has on our society and environment.
If file formats become redundant, then how will we preserve our art for prosperity? If technology continues to advance, how will the developing world ever catch up? If our digital devices need replacing, what sort of strain does this place on natural resources?
He asks some silly questions, my inner old codger. He prattles on. Mostly I ignore him and go with the crowd. But every now and then he raises a point that really makes me worry. If you’re struggling to keep up in your 20s, he says, what’s going to happen when you’re 75?
It’s enough to make this young whippersnapper pine for good ’ol days.