Monday, February 1, 2010

Voltaire vs. Steve Jobs

So. The iPad has been unveiled at last. It will be on the market in a few months. That is just great.

Soon legions of us will be toting these around. We’ll have portable access to books, magazines, databases, credit scores, great works of literature. Anything you like. You don’t have to miss a thing. EVER.

You know what I miss? I miss the days when no one knew what the hell was going on. These kind of technologies have ruined ignorance and guessing forever.

Already a new category of Know-It-All has arisen: the iPhone-It-All. You know someone like this, I’ll bet. You’re standing around, chatting and conjecturing about this or that. Next thing you know, there’s somebody whipping out the iPhone to look something up, either to make a point or in answer to a rhetorical question that has come up through the normal course of conversation.

The thing is, I truly don’t mind situations fraught with wondering. For example, thinking out loud along these lines, “I wonder if it’s going to be cold next week?” or “If I turn here, I wonder if that will get me to Route 1?” or even “I wonder what’ll happen if I add this entire box of Mentos to this 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke?”

I can wait to find out the answer to a lot of these questions in due time or maybe even through trial and error, but the iPhone-it-all has to ruin such contemplations by using his iPhone to tell you exactly what the barometric pressure will be next Thursday at 4 pm or for the previous forty years if you’re interested (No, really, that’s OK), or that you could cut your travel time by four minutes if you took the highlighted route. Or worse, the iPhone-It-All will explain the science behind the Diet Coke/Mentos fizz explosions instead of focusing on what really matters, which is that Diet Coke mixed with Mentos results in standing around for hours going, “Heh. That’s cool.”

Excess access to information does not make you more interesting. As Voltaire once wisely said, “The surest way to be a bore is to tell everything.” The iPhone is well on its way to making bores of a whole generation of users. Fortunately Voltaire had the good sense to die two hundred years ago. If he hadn't, Steve Jobs would have done him in.

Sadly, knowing everything does not make you more appealing, and that little fact really annoys nerds. They think it should work that way. In their estimation, he who knows the most should win. Maybe even get the girl. Don’t forget, the iPhone was invented by nerds, and nerds love data. They collect it, analyze it, rearrange it, argue about it, and smear it all over their bodies. Of course they think iPhones and iPads are what all of America wants. Who doesn't want to be RIGHT all the time, right? Right makes might, doesn’t it?

Now, I love me some nerds as much as the next gal -- I mean we live in the golden age of nerds after all so I'd better -- but is data exchange really the point of conversation? Of small talk? Of drunken postulations about the nature of our existence? No. It is not. To be human is to err. In other words, to guess and get it wrong and then guess again.

I’m no Luddite, and eventually I may even get one those iPad doo-hickeys, but if I do, I will keep it to myself. I figure if keep quiet about what I know and also keep wondering aloud, eventually I may become the most interesting person on earth. Or at the very least, I’ll become a darling of the iPhone-It-Alls. Who else are they going to show off to?