mr. r. s. braythwayt,

JavaScript Allongé
JavaScript Allongé

What I've Learned From Failure
What I've Learned From Failure

Creative Commons License

The little super-dense singularity of the future

I purchased an unlocked iPhone 5 online from Apple. It arrived yesterday, and this morning I took it into an Apple Store, where they installed a micro-SIM and connected it to my existing wireless account. An hour later I was shooting HD (for some definition of “High Definition”) video of my daughter’s second piano recital.

Get me: I just took a “Beta-Cam,” a device that used to come in a large box and require a trailing cable running to a wall socket, and stuffed it in my pocket like a Toblerone. When people talked about “miniaturization,” they forgot to add, “and generalization.” It’s like I’m holding a piece of liquid solid that can reflow into any device needed.

It’s straight outta a science fiction novel, only nobody predicted these phones, because they’d have been laughed off as being impossible. In the seventies we believed in FTL travel but couldn’t conceive what a 2012 pocket device would do. We couldn’t imagine any devices this radical.

I cannot stress this highly enough: Today’s “smart phones” or whatever you want to call them are the most powerful devices ever made.1 Now, my MacBook Air is almost as portable and more powerful in raw computing terms. A cluster of PCs running a distributed chess program are clearly much more powerful in computing terms. Google is waaaay more powerful in data processing terms.

But all of that pales in significance next to this device that fits in a trouser pocket. You saw the doo-dads in “Star Wars IV.” None of them were as cool as this phone, and I can watch Star Wars on this phone. You saw the video telephones in “2001” and “Bladerunner.” They appeared to be hard-wired to land lines. Phooey.

I can walk around and make wireless video calls. What. The. Fuck. That’s amazing. I can watch someone singing “Mitch Romney Style” and a moment later watch Bill Evans playing in Finland from nineteen seventy-whenever, and it’s all in some magic library called YouTube. I can even watch myself giving a presentation from last month in another magic library called Vimeo. I’m so excited I have trouble breathing.

Then there’s work. Something called “DropBox” has all of my source code and all of my documents and I carry it around and can look at it whenever I want. I used to have punch cards, the punch cards for all my source code would fill rooms. The fanfold printouts would fill one room. And not only do I have all my own source code, I have all my books and blog posts and there’s this other magic library called Github where I have everyone else’s source code.

Fuck me, my brain is over-amping like a toddler on Coca-Cola and Gummi Worms.

If I want to I can use this thing just like one of those terminals that used to sit on a table so I can control another computer. Yes, I just shoved a desktop device into something smaller than a portable cigar pouch. Is there anything this magic slab of glass and metal can’t do?

The future may be unevenly distributed, but I have to express my contentment with the little super-dense singularity represented by this device. And best of all, it’s so commonplace that if anyone bothers to read my hagiographic description, the response is likely to be,

“Meh, that’s nothing. You should see my Android…”