The Digital Guy

 

 digital transformation

 

          A few months ago, I waited in line for an iPhone 5s on the first day that they came out. I generally avoid any sort of event that requires waiting in line, but I was going on vacation the next day and thought the upgraded camera and a fresh battery would be nice.

           I will admit that it was kind of fun being there with all the other Apple nerds on a cool, yet sunny morning. We passed the time talking while we waited outside the Verizon Store, as they methodically doled out their allotment of iGoodies. The line wasn’t very long, because most of the people who approached from their cars were told immediately that they wouldn’t be able to get the snazzy new gold iPhone. Once they found out it wouldn’t be available in the store for weeks, they turned around and went home. When I hit the top of the queue after about forty-five minutes, I simply asked, “What color do you have left?” I got space gray, which was what I wanted anyway.

           While going through the paperwork and the activation process, I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to grandfather in my old single plan, so I opted for a shared plan with six GB’s (Great Britain’s, for you novices) per month. This pulled the other devices on our account into the fold and since I use less than half a GB, it worked out OK. It would actually save around ten dollars a month doing it this way and guaranteed enough data to go around.

Sparkly...

Sparkly…

           Once I got home and explained the whole shared data thing to my wife, she started craving an iPhone over her old Samsung flip phone. She actually wanted the gold one, so kudos to you, Apple. Nicely played.

             “It’s pretty!” she said and I actually agreed. For a chunk of technology, it was pretty. Since she couldn’t have cared less how long it took to get one, we simply ordered it online. It was delivered to our doorstep in less than a week.

              Mrs. G. likes the phone a lot. She plays solitaire on it and can now text people, something she never did before, and the phone quality is much better than that of her old phone, or even our home phone. My daughter showed her the Emoji keyboard, so now every text Mrs. G. sends has a smiley face or a puppy or fireworks. She tries to be seasonally appropriate, so we just went through a Christmas phase of Santa heads and Christmas trees. She has also used FaceTime, not by mistake, which is kind of cool, and she is finding purpose in a few apps. This speaks highly as to how easy these things are to use.

Not so fast, buddy. Is everything this easy?

              Since I’m the tech support in our household, it always falls to me to explain this stuff and to fix it when it either goes wrong or drifts into unknown territory. This applies to everything in the house with a battery or a plug, but sometimes I simply can’t make it work. For example, a few years ago, my wife gave me a Blu-Ray player for my birthday. This would have been a very cool thing to be able to watch movies that were fractionally sharper than a regular DVD, but there was a small problem: It wouldn’t work on our antiquated four-year old system because the receiver didn’t have an HDMI port. So I had to take it back.

             When they asked what was wrong with it, I told them nothing as far as I knew, because I didn’t have an HDMI port to hook it up properly. The clerk gasped and looked at me as if I had spoken these words through wooden dentures that still had bugs stuck in them from driving my ox drawn carriage to his store all the way from 1843. “You … don’t … have … an … HDMI … port?” he said to me, as if we still heated our house with whale oil and put leeches on our wounds. “My God, help yourself to some free stickers on your way out to give to your thirty-seven ragged children. Have a happy Appalachian Christmas!”

            We stayed with our regular DVD player, which is more than clear enough for me. It’s funny though—I still keep thinking about how much better, how much clearer it could have been. It will all be a moot point soon, because DVD’s and even Blu-Ray discs are dying, rapidly being replaced by streaming. For a flat rate, one can now have millions of movies and TV shows beamed to the TV via the Internet. Yes, the Internet. Did you think this was going to be easy?

           The TV is just the thing that shows the picture. All the good stuff, including the channel changer, the speakers and everything else come from different devices altogether. It can take four or even five different devices to “watch TV.” The guy who invents a television that actually does everything, including the ability to pull in every imaginable channel, in one simple wall mounted device, with one simple remote control and have it play through speakers that don’t make everybody sound like Munchkins will become a billionaire overnight. Come to think of it, didn’t we used to have this? In 1955? Why have we actually moved backwards on this?

What about all these highfalutin new options?

          In my feeble attempts to cut our cable TV cord and take a baby step into the new streaming age, I bought a Roku box and set it up on the TV in our bedroom. I set it up there because that TV has an HDMI port. I can’t set it up on the main TV in our living room because that system still doesn’t have an HDMI port. These things seem so vital today that I can’t believe our car runs without an HDMI port.

           I just found out that I could hook up the Roku with plain old RCA cables (don’t ask) to the back of the receiver, but that would mean pulling the receiver off the shelf, which would release a tangle of cables and wires that run through walls, under floors and into the back of the TV in the living room. It would take the patience of a bomb diffuser to figure it all out. Even if I find the right spot to plug in the cables, I would have to reprogram the universal remote and quite frankly, that sounds like an all-day job. Just writing about it has given me a headache. For now, I’d rather just drive to a Redbox once in a while and rent a movie.

           It would be interesting, though. Since we got the Roku, I receive e-mails telling me about all the interesting channels that are available, most of them for free. Here are two of the newest offerings and I swear to you, I’m not making this up:

           The Brick Show. This sounded so awesome; it’s hard to believe CBS didn’t jump all over it. There is an entire channel that features nothing but LEGO’s, Mega Bloks, K’Nex, KRE-O and other toys made out of plastic bricks, along with the latest toy news and footage of amazing things that people have made from these plastic blocks. I know! LEGO’s! Suck it, Masterpiece Theatre! 

           Firewood Hoarders TV.  This sounds like a beauty. This is a channel that features videos on how to cut, store, and burn firewood. Couldn’t you just watch this all day? The Firewood Hoarder’s Club presents it and they are dead serious. Yes, there is such a thing as the F.H.C. and they apparently like to watch other people with the same fondness for chopping and storing logs and, I don’t know, maybe cutting letters out of magazines and sending angry manifestos to editors of newspapers.

           I love technology, I really do, but at fifty-nine, I’m wondering when that old man gene will kick in and I suddenly don’t care about it anymore. I’ve heard old guys kvetching about the new fangled this or that and I just don’t understand this mentality at all. Except for automated operators. Nobody likes those systems, but why would you not want to know how to turn off the speakerphone on your cellphone? Or how to send a text message, and isn’t it sort of embarrassing to ask your ten-year old grandson how to pull up the Unknownchannel guide on the TV?

           Uh-uh. Not me. For as long as I can, I’m embracing the new digital age, and as long as it doesn’t require an HDMI plug, I’m all in with both feet.

 

UPDATE

 

            Since this was written, there have been some changes.

            On January 6, Roku announced (at the Consumer Electronics Show) that they would have a fully contained Smart TV available in the fall of 2014. It’ll have complete access to the bazillion channel choices available and one, simple twenty-button remote control.

            No word yet on if Steve Jobs is rolling in his grave.

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©Rick Garvia 2014.   This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Electronic or print reproduction, adaptation, or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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