Cellphones do everything, just nothing useful

John Robson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Can I complain about technology here? Not my usual curmudgeonly bit about how machinery can’t save our souls, social media are stupid and electric light killed the night sky. I mean why are we surrounded by so much fancy stuff doing so little?

For instance, I’d sooner leave home without my wallet than my “cellphone” with 32 GB of memory, lightning-fast processor and not just Plants vs. Zombies and Minesweeper but e-mail, Internet searches, my research files in the cloud and a terrific mapping app. Oh, and a 41-megapixel camera.

My Windows phone might attract ridicule from tattooed nonconformists all clutching a handful of trendy brands. But if I must have technology, give me this. And some apps from all those squaresville companies still thinking the Apple Store’s cutting edge. But I digress… slightly.

My point is, I also routinely leave home with pockets bulging with three or even four digital passes, two clunky Wi-Fi keyring dongles, and a wallet full of credit cards and, yes, more passes. Why?

I’m tempted to say my cellphone can do anything except sing the aria from Faust. But it could easily do that. The scary app that guesses my musical preferences might be downloading it as I type.

Nope. Had to find it manually. Oh well. You can’t have everything. The phone also can’t improve my golf game or my manners. But it can do many amazing things a high-end computer couldn’t a decade ago. Including fit in my pocket.

So why can’t I wave it at an OC Transpo bus sensor, open my office, car or house door with it, control my TV, or show my driver’s licence and proof of insurance to the nice policeman?

The problem isn’t technical. My old iPhone had an app for paying Starbucks (except one branch that had to read the number off the phone and enter it manually … on a university campus). And while Starbucks hasn’t yet discovered the Windows phone (see “squaresville” above) we are all environmentalists now and it sure reduces the old smelly polluted footprint to do stuff digitally.

Besides, we’re told hi-tech innovation is our children’s future in the cutthroat compassionate future of constant pointless change. But last time I Googled it, old-fashioned leading by example was still a good idea. So with newfangled technology all over the shop, why do things the old-fashioned way so much?

Like paper product manuals. Or endless hassles with cumbersome centralized IT in large organizations, as though a computer were a big filing cabinet full of digital carbon paper. Or the Domino’s Pizza mobile app you can talk to in case you’re too mellow to work a keyboard… except you have to type in your address and payment information, as though voice recognition were just a typewriter on-switch.

By now we should know every major breakthrough first looks like a more efficient way to do an old task, like a “horseless carriage,” a “wireless” telegraph or the alphabet. But then the ground shifts.

Not always in good ways. Take hacking… please. Scarcely a week goes by without another major firm losing confidential details, including Domino's, almost as though the people in charge regard security as a distraction.

They don’t, of course. They just don’t realize they’re doing things differently and so are the bad guys. Why not?

Like I said, I’m no zealot for the whiz-bang future where digital money buys synthetic happiness. I’m with George MacDonald Fraser: If single-aimed shots were good enough for the Duke of Wellington, they’re good enough for me. But if I must live in a world where jihadis target homemade mortars using iPads and post cellphone massacre videos online, can’t we please at least open doors with our telephones?

 


Videos

Photos