On the day when you brought home the Infernal Device, everyone gathered around.
“What does it do?” Sister Mary asked, nervously.
Sister Martha kicked it.
“It is going to change the way we do things around here,” you said. You squinted at it. You cranked it a few times.
And things did change. You reaped faster. You came home and people were using it to converse across long distances. A strange new voice started telling you the news.
These seismic shifts used to come seldom. The gaps between the wheel and the cart and the automobile were considerable. The big new life-changing thing occurred once or twice a lifetime.
Now, like clockwork, when Google has its I/O or Apple its WWDC, we gather around clamoring for a miracle.
Changes in technology are the most visible revolutions. Presidents come and go, bringing minor inconveniences and tax breaks with them. But if you are really concerned with the way you live, watch the unveiling of the Next Big Tech Thing.
We expect new miracles every year, and what is odd is that we get them.
The poet Miller Williams wrote:
“I think the death of domestic animals
mark the sea changes in our lives.
Think how things were, when things were different.
There was an animal then, a dog or a cat,
not the one you have now, another one.
Think when things were different before that.
There was another one then. You had almost forgotten.”
These devices are more than pets. The iPhone. The iPad. The Kindle. They require as much care and more attention. I can give my phone undivided attention while walking a dog. I cannot give my dog undivided attention while using the phone.
Mine died recently because I dropped it in a puddle and its innards fell out. And I just broke another one. There is a neat web of minute cracks across the screen. Whenever I run my thumb across it I get tiny slivers of glass in it. My net worth has increased considerably.
We live more intimately with phones than with spouses. You sleep next to them. They keep records of all your calls and your thoughts and your dreams and the videos you like. You write on them, read on them, listen on them, and in certain isolated cases read erotica on them next to me on the subway. They make a subtle difference in your life.
“What,” all those people gathering to watch Google whip out its Nexus 7, “will the device on which I read embarrassing fiction about men in knit ties look like from now on?”
And on a broad scale, the introduction of new devices, like the arrival of new pets, mark sea changes in our lives. They differ, of course. When your dog dies, you do not have to get another dog. If you left your dog in a taxi, you would be sad, surely, but you would still be able to contact your friends.
The Nexus 7 from Google, as far as any of the videos imply, seems to do what the Kindle Fire did too — what we already knew we wanted. These days, that is barely enough. Google Glass — available next year to developers — looks more promising, allowing those who peer through it go spot features in the world around us that we didn’t know were there.
But don’t worry. If this miracle was not sufficient, there is always next year.