Friday, January 13, 2017

Tomorrow is Here Today

This picture is only metaphorically related to the scene that's on my mind.  I realize I've lived through a lot of dawns but now I'm inthe middle of an amazing dawn of technology that I would never have imagined even five years ago.

Yesterday a group of women were sitting in my living room talking about books we've read. Two people had read the same book and agreed it was excellent. Others wanted to know who wrote it. The speakers couldn't remember.  One person pulled a smart phone from her purse and began typing. At almost the same time another woman pulled out her smart phone, pushed an icon and asked in a slow, clear voice, "Siri, who wrote....?" She got no answer immediately, possibly because other people were talking at the same time. So she asked again, in the same tone of voice, addressing "Siri." Then she read from the little screen, "Anthony Doerr."

I don't have a smart phone and don't feel a need for all that computing power and various sorts of information at my finger tips. I have a 'Siri" function now on my computer that I have used once, with success and a second time with no success. I have no understanding of the technology of any computer search. I have accepted that a complex of connections exist somewhere -- in my primitive imagination I see something like a room full of encyclopedia although I know there's no such thing. But my imagination is that of a mid-20th century person.  These wonders of the early 21st century are beyond my ability to comprehend.  How one can speak a question to a handheld little instrument which I realize is equipped to "hear" voices, nevertheless become a digital impulse to search for answers to questions like who wrote a certain book?

That was a "today" event here in my living room. The woman's phone was not attached to anything visible. Somewhere in the atmosphere were impulses that connected to her little phone. I am astonished. In an even simpler way, I think quite often, when I hold my car key in my hand as I approach the car, I push an icon on the key's top of an open padlock.  What kind of impulse goes through my hand to something in the car so that the lights flash and I usually hear the click of the car door unlocking. Long ago -- way back in that bygone 20th century-- I would think about the little radio that I took to bed with me so that, under the covers, I could listen to Frank Sinatra very softy crooning into my ear. The radio had a cord that was plugged into an electric outlet, that connection to the larger world was obvious. But beyond that HOW did that sound come to me?  Someone knew, someone understood those things.  And today someone, I think, understands how "Siri" can understand a question and provide an answer.  Meanwhile, I am astounded... This feels like the dawn of an age I could never, never, never have imagined back when I was listening to Sinatra and Siri was not even a flicker in anybody's imagination.

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