29 Feb 2012

Untouchable

"Why don't you just download the app?", asked my friend. It was late last Saturday night, and we had just entered another art gallery participating in Montréal's Nuit Blanche. On display was a rather underwhelming video installation of a man in a sewer. That was, however, merely the most obvious part of the project. As it turns out, the display was linked to a virtual reality environment, which allowed you to wander through the tunnels yourself - on your smartphone. Or at least this is what I understood from my friend, before she plugged in her headset and started wandering the snow-covered streets of the old port, believing to be in the sewers underneath.

This is the same friend, by the way, who had tought her phone's voice assistant to refer to me as "her husband". Fortunately, her boyfriend was in on the prank, and I was touched by the gesture. My phone, however, was not.

In fact, it hardly saw any use that long white night, unlike its much smarter siblings. Be it at the dinner table, directing us from one venue to the next, or updating the social network as we went along, the fruit-branded devices were always at my friends' fingertips.

And if they were not, then they sat there on the table, putting the entire world within an arm's reach. Exactly as they do in any meeting I attend at work these days. Whether it is in an attempt to be more efficient, or just to emulate corporate bigwigs, colleagues across all levels seem to have gotten their hands on a smartphone. An IT guideline on how to connect private devices to our corporate mail servers has recently been sent out - to my PC, that is. I took a hands-off approach.

Not that the benefits completely slip from my hands. On my recent trip, my wingman usually activated his device in the split-second between our plane's main and its forward landing gear touching the ground. By the time we reached our gate, he had published his location on Facebook, checked our connecting flight information, messaged back home, and searched for recommended food outlets. I, on the other hand, was contemplating if it was even worth keying in the PIN code to activate my phone for the short time we were there.

When I got my first handy, over 15 years ago, my friends laughed at me. Who would ever need such a clunky contraption? What was wrong with a payphone? Today, they point their fingers at me - and then at the screens of their pocket-knowitalls. Thinking, navigating, socializing, playing, it all happens with a gentle touch. And rumor has it they can still make calls, too. The marketeer in me rejoices over data trails as rich and as personalized as these. But personally, I have so far remained unimpressed. Will I be able to resist for much longer? I keep my fingers crossed.

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