Vulgar Time-Traveling iPhone


twabsence

Every Sunday morning, my iPhone becomes a time machine.

I wrote a post a couple of years ago about technology and scripture, about how changes in the way scripture is presented change the way we interact with it, and even how we think about it and what we get out of it.

By and large, I don’t see these things as good or bad, they simply are. If a person believes that scripture is divinely inspired, it’s not too far a leap to imagine that the One doing the inspiration had the foresight to know that media would change over time and prepare for it.

(On a side note, I heard someone talk about scripture in terms of fault-tolerant transmissions. We have the technology now to beam messages to spacecraft throughout the solar system in such a way that even if there is data lost in transmission, the process compensates so that what is received is still usable. I’m inclined to think that may be a good analogy — that scripture was inspired to function properly despite human language changes, errors, and international alterations.)

The latest significant change for me is interesting because it actually mitigates the effects of one of the earlier changes. To me, one of the earliest presentation changes was the beginning of the practice of translating scripture. Now, you no longer have to speak Greek and Hebrew and Aramaic to understand the stories. The number of people who can understand scripture on their own is broadened tremendously. This is a very good thing.

That very good thing, however, comes at a cost — the reach is broadened, but shades of meaning are lost. A word might mean multiple different things, and the translator has to pick which one was intended. A word might have several shades of meaning, and the new language equivalent may not capture that texture. A word might mean one thing, but be translated as a word that has shades of meaning not intended by the original. (And that doesn’t even get into cultural differences over time.)

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been discovering some of those instances where things I took for granted weren’t necessarily the case, or where there was a richness in the original I had no awareness of.

I still don’t speak the original languages, and don’t have an original text Bible anyway. And, to be honest, that first part is unlikely to ever change.

But, I do have my iPhone time machine.

I now have the ability to select any word in a passage, and see what the original-language word there was. I can read definitions for what the word meant. I can see whether it’s the same word used in another place with a similar translation.

It brings me a little bit closer to what it would have been like reading the original.

I realize there are still limitations — I’m cherry-picking the words I’m looking up, I’m still going based on someone else’s definitions, I still don’t necessarily understand the cultural context — but it’s at least helping me to think about things differently, to be aware of the richer texture.

And that, I think, is a change for the better.

Yes, Virginia, There Is A Steve Jobs


This is one of those times when, for all my skills as a writer, my own words are woefully inadequate, and the best I can do is borrow from those better than I.


“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
“Some of my little friends say Steve Jobs is dead.
“Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
“Please tell me the truth; is Steve Jobs gone?
“VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
“115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.”

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see online. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Steve Jobs. He exists as certainly as intuition and genius and innovation exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Steve Jobs. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, not even in sense and sight. The eternal light with which creativity fills the world would be extinguished.

Believe Steve Jobs is dead! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch at Infinite Loop for Steve Jobs, but even if they did not see Steve Jobs coming in, what would that prove? You may not see Steve Jobs yourself, but that is no sign that there is no Steve Jobs. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the iPhone and see what processor it has inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that reality distortion field and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

Steve Jobs dead?! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of the crazy ones.

The Living Room Frontier


Sputnik iPhone case by Zazzle. Click image for more info.

Let’s get this out of the way to begin with — I love the iPhone. Like, a lot. OK?

But …

It’s also what’s wrong with the world. As Paul Simon wrote, “You are the burden of my generation. I sure do love you, but let’s get that straight.”

Yesterday was October 4.

For a lot of people, myself included, it was the day Apple made the iPhone 4S announcement.

For some other people, myself included, it was the anniversary of the beginning of the Space Age, the date on which, in 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.

Fifty-four years apart, two technological high-water marks.

Two technological high-water marks showing just how much the world has changed.

Back then, the frontier was the future. The goal was to go — to make the world a smaller place by bringing it closer together. Innovation was rockets to reach for the stars, and cars that looked like rockets to travel the country and airplanes to do it faster. The greatest manifestation of man’s ability was a space program that would reach into the unknown. As Kennedy would say five years later, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”

We live today in an age in which we instead organize and measure the best of our energies and skills around the iPhone and its like.

The goal today is still to make our worlds smaller, not by connecting it, but by disconnecting it. We want better telephones and better televisions and better networks so that I can experience the world without leaving the comfort of my home.

Today, our frontier is no longer the unknown, but the living room.

I love my iPhone.

But I regret not living in a world in which our goal is not to increase our comfort, but to say, as Kennedy did, “And, therefore, as we set sail, we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”

Where is your frontier?

Still Crazy After All These Years


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I remember when Steve Jobs came back.

I was working in Indianola  then, and was still very much one of the Mac faithful, despite it being a very dark time.

There was no reason that his return should have brought hope. Apple was, in fact, in bad shape. (Wired’s famous “Pray” cover was during this era — after Steve’s return, even.) And Steve’s latest venture, NeXT, while apparently technically competent, wasn’t exactly revolutionizing the world. (Nor yet was his side venture, a little company he’d bought from George Lucas named Pixar.)

But bring hope it did.

At first, the signs Apple was different, was more Apple than it had been being, were superficial. For all its grammatical offensiveness, “Think Different” just felt right. As did the underdog-fodder “Here’s To The Crazy Ones.”

And then came the more concrete signs. It was easy to believe change had arrived when the first iMacs appeared, with their convention-defying bubble shape and friendly colors. But we knew things were different when that same design aesthetic started appearing in everything from power strips to kitchen appliances. Apple was relevant again.

Over the next decade, relevant would become an understatement. Apple not only influenced, it shaped and eventually dominated. The company never returned to its first-Steve-era place as the leader of the home computer market. Instead, it made that fact unimportant. Rather than try to recapture that particular market, Apple simply repeated the same trick — creating new markets, and dominating them. And, this time, it learned lessons that had cost it the PC market, and avoided the same mistakes.

We’d been mocked. Now, the Apple logo was ubiquitous, and Apple became the most valuable company in the world. For the faithful, it was vindication. For Steve, I can only imagine.

I have confidence in Tim Cook. He has demonstrated that he can provide strong business leadership for Apple.

And right now, Steve remains on as chairman at Apple. His voice is still present; his insight still contributed.

And this is good.

Because while I have no question that Apple and its current leadership will have no problem maintaining the same levels of business acumen and technological genius, it’s the intangible I worry about.

Steve’s greatest unparalleled and world-changing skill since his return has been the ability to see what is, and to see what it could be. To look at a Walkman and see an iPod. To look at a cell phone and see an iPhone. Apple’s future is ultimately going to rest in whether the company can continue that almost-counter-intuitive innovation.

The news may have struck me differently on a different day, but yesterday, after hearing about the failure of a Soyuz rocket that morning and some of the vagaries of my personal life, it hit me hard when I heard on my way to church last night that Steve had resigned.

And it ultimately came down to this —

The world seems a little less magic.

iPad 2: Should iBuy?


ipad 2It was obvious from the beginning that the iPad should have at least one camera.

There were a lot of reasons I wanted one from when they were first announced. There were a lot of reasons I didn’t need one, also.

So I let the camera be the deciding factor. It’s obvious it should have one. It seemed just as obvious to me that the next model would have one. I knew if I got one without a camera I would regret it when the ones with cameras were released. So I waited.

And now there are iPads with cameras.

So the factor I used to avoid having to make a decision last year no longer applies. Meaning I’ve got to make a decision based on other factors.

My short review of the iPad 2 is as follows:

• It eliminates every shortcoming that kept me from buying the first iPad.

• It adds no new killer app that makes me feel like I have to have one.

I’ve heard rumors about features that might be in the iPad 3, but none of them are anything that I feel like I just have to have, the same way I felt about the camera the first time around, so this seems like a device I could be satisfied with.

That second bullet is where I’m hung up, though, and it occurred to me this morning that I may be thinking about it all wrong.

Right now, my thought process is this — if I had an iPad, I would use it, without question. But I really don’t know much I would use it for that I couldn’t do right now with either my iPhone or my MacBook. It’s not really adding functionality, just making existing functionality more convenient.

BUT — when I bought my first iPhone, I could have said the same thing. I had a phone with internet and camera, and I had a computer. The iPhone did, theoretically, little that either of those didn’t do, it just make them more convenient.

The reality, however, is that the iPhone is so much more than the sum of its parts, and lets me do things that a regular cell phone and computer wouldn’t; things I didn’t fully understand until I had one.

And many of those things have nothing to do with the features listed on the Apple website, a lot of them are capabilities added by apps; I use third-party apps on my iPhone at least as much as the Apple on-board software.

So, I put the question out there for current or prospective iPad users — what am I missing? What features or capabilities does the iPad provide that you really don’t get until you experience one?

We Are The Cyborg. Resistance Is Futile.


iPhone 4 case available via Zazzle

And then there’s my cyborg friend Caleb.

When Caleb and his wife visited recently for dinner, he showed off his new insulin pump, a technological leap forward over what I’d seen before. Increasingly, it does what he needs it to as unobtrusively, and with as little manual involvement as possible. It’s a cybernetic device that keeps him alive and healthy. He’s a cyborg.

Growing up, cyborgs were like lasers — one of those science-fictiony things that were cool in movies but with no bearing on my real life. Today, I carry a laser in my pocket, and I have cyborg friends. These are the days of miracle and wonder.

I say that to say this — My iPhone broke Monday.

Well, technically, it broke, mostly, Saturday or Sunday. But Monday was the point of, “OK, I’ve got to do something about this.”

The home button almost stopped working. I could still use the phone, but it was hard. I could open an app, but it was hard to close it afterward. Initially I became more conservative in my app use. On Monday morning, I tried restoring the software on my phone and, that failing to fix it, I scheduled an appointment at the Apple store.

I worried briefly about what I would do if they were going to need some time to fix the phone; the idea of life without a phone with me seemed uncomfortable. As it was, it took about 10 minutes, maybe, to go in, tell them what was wrong, and get a replacement. Which was a bit sad, as of Monday morning I still owned all three iPhones I’d bought. I remember the day I bought that one, and now it’s gone. Alas.

I’d planned to go straight from the Apple store to run some errands before rehearsal, but realized I needed to go home, instead. Sure, I had a phone, but without syncing it to my computer, it was of limited use. Even with a phone, you can’t call anyone if you don’t know their phone number.

All total, not counting the hardware problem, it was a period of about 24 hours that most of my apps were missing, and it drove home how much, and in how many ways, I rely on the phone.

Caleb’s insulin pump supplements his pancreas. My iPhone supplements my brain. I couldn’t call anyone because I didn’t know any numbers. What used to be a function of my memory has now been offloaded into a cybernetic device.

One researcher estimates that the human brain stores about 3 terabytes of data. The internet supposedly holds about 500 million terabytes. I’m eight orders of magnitude more knowledgeable with my phone than without. I can communicate with my friends without talking to them — I can even know where they are or what they’re doing without making contact at all — giving me rudimentary telepathy. My iPhone not only supplements my brain, it supplements it well beyond human capacity. The iPhone gives me superpowers.

I am a cyborg. And we are the future.

Did Steve Jobs Just Kill The Web?


Did Steve Jobs just kill the World Wide Web?

Maybe. Kind of.

You could make the argument that he didn’t because he was too late. At least you could if you were Wired Magazine. Back in August, Wired published a very interesting piece  titled The Web Is Dead. Love Live the Internet which argued that the Web is past its prime, due to a combination of two factors.

First, they said, Web traffic is increasingly coalescing around a handful of sites. Most notably, Facebook has essentially created a parallel Web, in which a huge amount of information is organized and accessed all through one site. When you go on Facebook, you’re no longer just seeing your friends’ statuses. You’re playing games and watching videos and reading news and any number of other things. All the benefits of the Web, without leaving the comfort of Facebook.

The other factor Wired cited was the growth of apps on mobile devices (and now tablets). On my computer, when I go to Twitter, on my computer, I go to twitter.com. On the web. On my iPhone, I use their app. Same content, without going on the web. A large number of my favorite apps are the same way — Amazon, TUAW, dictionary.com, Living Social, etc. I’m getting the web content, without ever going on the web. While the last point talked about how sites like Facebook are killing the Web, on my computer, I’m still getting there by going to Facebook.com. On my iPhone, I don’t even do that.

Which brings us to the Mac App Store.  The iOS version of the App Store has been very successful, and thus has given people expectations for how an App Store should work. And the Mac App Store is playing into those expectations. When I logged in for the first time, there was Angry Birds prominently displayed, just the way it should be in an App Store. And there’s a free Twitter client. One of the complaints I read the first day was that there was no Facebook app.

Really, why should there be? The app would be designed to run on your desktop or laptop, which is capable of running a full-featured browser, letting you access Facebook in a way that lets you do more than you can in the iOS Facebook app. Arguably, there’s no need for a Mac Facebook app.

But because of the success of the iOS app store, there’s an ingrained expectation that there should be one. And if one were created, theoretically, it would be the optimum version of Facebook — a version of Facebook freed of the mobile-device limitations of previous apps and of the browser-compatibility limitations previously on desktops and laptops. And then not only would there be the option of leaving the web, there would be a reason to.

And this isn’t true just for Facebook. A year from now, will I end up editing my blog from the Mac WordPress app because it’s better than WordPress.com? And will I be getting my weather from the Weather Channel app? What web sites will I stop visiting because there are better ways of accessing their content?

There’s a bit of irony here — for the last few years, the trend has been that everything is moving toward the web, and that web applications will replace desktop applications; that I’ll be doing my word processing through the web instead of using a native application.

If the best analyses are to be believed, two years from now, I’ll be reading Facebook in an app while I’m doing spreadsheets on the web, streaming movies on to my laptop while controlling my computer through the TV. I’ll also be washing my clothes in the stove and cooking dinner in the bathtub.

Just so long as my Garmin GPS music player is compatible with my flying car.

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