I don’t focus my work on smartphones because they are so small and shiny and pretty and cool. I focus on smartphones because they are the future. Or, at the very least, the end of the past.
In the mere span of a decade, smartphones will *connect everyone on the planet*. This will create, essentially, an *equivalent* multi-directional, ever-expanding, real-time passageway amongst all, utterly obliterating the barriers of space and time, and with virtually no interloper.
Understand: nothing like this has ever happened in the history of humanity! Nothing. Ever.
How the smartphone shapes our lives and our communities and our world is utterly unknowable. There is zero we can take from our past to guide us. All we can know for certain is that now, in the present, the past is collapsing; it is rapidly being devoured, channeled inside the smartphone. The smartphone is consuming music and movies and television and books and working relationships and how we interact with products, services, goods, stores; while altering how and when and where we communicate with people and things and groups and data.
Destroying the past. Re-constructing our present.
Which makes me realize, maybe smartphones are not of the future. Maybe, in fact, they will prevent the future.
One of the things I admire most about Steve Jobs is not that he built a giant, prosperous, smart American company, but that he delivered the future, and not from on high, but placed it in our hands. Stop what you’re doing for a moment and look at your iPhone. Do it. Star Trek’s Doctor McCoy had nothing so cool. And if he ever did, he sure wouldn’t require an engineer Scotty to show him how it works.
It’s like that with the iPad. Bill Gates, the richest man of our time, talked about tablets for a decade. And yet, nothing. Talk, only. Steve Jobs made one, however, made millions of them, and they were even better than we dared imagine. Even babies can use them. Our parents can use them!
In Neal Stephenson’s near-futuristic book “Diamond Age”, there is a tablet that is barely the equivalent of the iPad. And in Stephenson’s book, sprung from his wild imagination, only like two or three even existed. One of the great sci-fi writers of our time could not conceive of an iPad offered to everyone.
Steve Jobs opened a portal to the future. Went through that portal — more than once — came back and handed us all presents. While people seek, even in his death — especially in his death — to denigrate him cause he obviously had ADD, was laughably controlling and yelled at people. Hell, I’m surprised he could speak our language at all.
Nonetheless, the man I admire so much for bringing the future to us, may not be the man I thought I knew. Because now I fear that his gifts, and all smartphones in general, could, counter-intuitively stunt our future.
In my novel, The Empty Spaces, the following concerns one of the main characters, mostly bad:
Which is not to suggest that Francis Howerd Mustard was power mad. More like, power destined, is how he viewed himself. One of the good guys; only with balls……
Francis was of his time, he knew. And his time needed him. The nation had grown soft and scared, like Barr. It was no longer willing to accept its earned role of alpha dog in a large, leaderless world. Francis understood, in a way the effete congressman did not, that at times the alpha dog may seem harsh, severe, may be required to make examples of others to insure order. In the end, of course, even if so many refused to acknowledge this harsh truth, the group as a whole was stronger, more prosperous under such an arrangement.
Trouble was, the noise of everyday living now prevented even the alpha dog’s bark from penetrating the weak’s disconnected aural flotsam. There were simply too many messages, too much distraction. Except — he had found a way. Through some music program created by some unemployed hack in fucking Canada brought to him by some fucking Indian venture capitalist thinking he could score with the biggest market in the world, the US fucking government. Francis was determined to take possession of Empty Spaces, and everything he knew it could achieve..
“The noise of everyday living…”
I wonder, is that drowning out our creativity, our desires — our bold declarations and brave ventures into the new world; toward the future? And does anything drown this out more than the always-on, real-time, location-aware, highly interactive, thoroughly social smartphone?
This passage, again from The Empty Spaces involves one of the main characters, mostly good:
Jackie could have discussed, but did not, the many theories, the varied evidence, over whether Wow! was real or not, an error, or not, a singular, inexplicable burst of electromagnetic energy or little green men desperately sending out an SOS to anyone, any planet within digital ear shot. He did not…….
Jackie had long since fully accepted that such thoughts, which he had entertained since childhood, were now, in adulthood, with everyone working, or looking for work, everyone busy, everyone uncertain of their jobs, their pocketbooks, their futures, all that, was the equivalent of asking for a civil conversation on the possibility that Santa Claus actually exists. And so he never revealed any of this. Ever. The once or twice with JaDe was when he had smoked too much [marijuana], but that was it.
Details may indeed make up the totality of the person, but they are rarely appealing qualities on a first date. Start talking about signals from space and aliens and seeking ways to reach out to them, and, well, attractive, smart women with jobs…His mind trailed off. His thoughts, he knew, should be laser focused on Empty Spaces, on his big investor meeting.
They were not. They were on failure. His. America’s. Everyone’s, he decided. Are we not explorers? When did the future, with all its uncertainty, scare us more than embolden us? What do we seek? What calls us?
Because Jackie long ago realized that projects like SETI were fundamentally flawed. Doomed to failure. At least in this current iteration of human development. More than flawed in fact, they were backwards. We should not be listening for signs of life beyond our planet, our solar system, our galaxy, Jackie thought. If by some miracle we hear them, what then?
Instead, we should be the ones placing the call.
Which was, at its most basic, and its most secret, exactly what Empty Spaces did. Which was another thing he vowed never to tell anyone. Ever. Especially not his investors. He was certain, of course, that they would never find out.
We are not calling the future. Nor, I suspect, are we even listening.
There is too much on our plate — and the hunger for exploration is no more, I fear.
Was Steve Jobs the last man to go into the future — and return safely? Will he be the last? Is what he brought back, whether meant purposefully or not, going to prevent us from seizing the day so that we may create the future? Because we use his gifts as much as any to remake our past, yes, but also to focus on the now.
We text and tweet and watch and share and react and post and provoke and become provoke. But we have no grand plans; neither for ourself, for our species, for our planet.
Steve Jobs took the giant leaps. I fear we are too exhausted to take those next small steps.