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Jack Knox: Excitement over iPhone 5 is all geek to me

Sep 16 2012

The new iPhone 5 is out and we're supposed to be excited.

How excited? Doublerainbow excited. Deep-fried crack excited. Not sure if this is the sixth version of the iPhone or the Second Coming of Christ.

They say this one little gadget alone could push up the U.S. gross domestic product by half a percentage point. One poll claimed 39 per cent of young men would give up an inch of their manhood to get an iPhone 5 right now. Really.

The attraction? Well, Apple's newest offering is taller, lighter and thinner - great selling points for a supermodel but, um, isn't this a smartphone?

Some people get giddy about such advances in communications technology, but others - OK, me - are simply baffled. Start talking about phones or, worse, phone plans and I'll just cock my head like a dog struggling to understand English: "Blah, blah, blah, Spot. Blah, blah, data plan."

I use a BlackBerry, a chipped and battered one that looks as though it lost a bar fight. It does everything I want, but apparently that's not good enough. Pull out a BlackBerry and iPhone-people react with a mixture of embarrassed pity and smirking amusement, as though as you had just invested all your money in Nortel, or Blockbuster Video or the Liberal party. You might as well wear a Maple Leafs sweater.

People forget that British Columbians couldn't even buy their own phones until 1984. Prior to that they were all rented from B.C. Tel, had rotary dials and were hardwired into your kitchen wall. Privacy meant stretching the cord and squeezing into the broom closet, receiver in one ear, dustpan in the other, Mr. Clean fumes wafting up your nose.

But then came consumer choice: push buttons, call display, answering machines. Modular jacks that could be installed all over the house, allowing phones to be plugged in anywhere. Giant cordless models with antennae as long as the one on your car - walk outside with one of those, you looked like Lieutenant Dan calling in an air strike in Good Morning, Vietnam.

And on it went, more and more options, until one day you found yourself standing uncertainly at the Foodo kiosk in the mall, with some slick-talking 20-year-old trying to lock you into a contract just slightly richer and longer than Roberto Luongo's.

"We have plans from as little as $25 a month," he'd say.

"That's the one I want," you'd reply. "What do I get?"

"Four anytime minutes. Unlimited evenings and weekends from midnight to 3 a.m. No voice mail, but we'll leave a note on the fridge."

"What else you got?" "Our Executive Plan: unlimited text messaging, call waiting, conference calling, 900 megabytes of data, free picture messaging, Canada-wide calling, conjugal visits."

"How much is that?" "$45,000 for nine years." "Anything cheaper?" "Ninety bucks a month.

Free local calls within two blocks of your house. Free international calling, as long as it's Norway. Everything else is $37 a minute. It comes with a crash helmet for those nasty head-on collisions when two people are texting in a crosswalk, along with a Klaxon horn that sounds - ah-OO-gah! ah-OO-gah! - before your boss can catch you playing Angry Birds."

"Can I download movies?"

"Yes, but only ones with Eddie Murphy after he stopped being funny."

All that's without even thinking about what kind of smartphone to buy - but you dare not even walk in the store without first taking an ESL (electronics as a second language) class: "widescreen aspect ratio," "A6 processor," "4G LTE connectivity." It's all geek to me. (Refer back to dog, cocked head.)

Young people don't seem to have this problem.

Maybe it's generational, phone culture having replaced car culture. Where dad once waxed on about Hurst shifters and Holley four-barrel carburetors, Junior goes gaga for a Galaxy, not a Galaxie.

Well, good for Junior. It's a lot easier to get excited about the latest, greatest gizmo when you're not standing at the bottom of the learning curve, looking up. Besides, no one ever lost their virginity in the back seat of a smartphone.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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