Not Just a Phone

I remember my first cell phone, a small Nokia candy bar phone. It had a small screen and bland ringtones. Back then, a cell phone was just a phone. It made calls – that was its sole purpose. But now, a relatively short time later, my phone is no longer just a phone. It is a device, making calls is just one minor task in its array of talents. My current phone reminds me of important dates, serves as my internet browser, my inbox for three personal emails, it can pinpoint itself anywhere on earth within a few meters, can give me directions, points out places of interests nearby and keeps me connected to anyone I choose. My iPod just sits in a pocket in my commuting bag most of the time because it is so much easier to get my podcasts wirelessly as I charge my phone each night. I bypass my computer and iTunes completely. Each morning, as I walk to the train, I scroll through my new listening options. When I don’t want to listen to a podcast, there is streaming public radio updated each hour or any mix of songs I can think of available free through Pandora. I also don’t need to bring a camera with me anywhere – when I want a picture, I snap a decent photo with my phone and can upload or email it to any number of sites within seconds, available for consumption. We take all of this for granted today, but these are fundamental changes compared to just a few years ago.

To be honest (and not to sound addicted), but I don’t know what I would do without my phone. At home, it usually sits on the fireplace mantle, but it is always there when I need it. The way I interact with others and access information has vitally changed due to Internet, smartphones and the thousands of apps available wirelessly. It is a tremendous shift from even five years ago. So I ask again, what would I do without my phone? I currently have no idea, although much of my life was lived without one. But it’s clear that a phone will never be just a phone again.

A Trip Back to the Mountains

I had the chance to visit Utah last week. I have spent two years of my adult life there and it was good to go back. It’s a unique place with a culture like no where else. But it is a beautiful place as well. As I drove around Salt Lake I was reminded of my short time at the University of Utah. At the time, I lived in literally the most eastern building in Salt Lake City. It was part of the University’s campus and served as athlete housing during the 2002 Winter Olympics. I was literally on the side of the mountain. This meant that I had a great view of the valley and a long uphill hike home each night. I remember those days fondly. There was of course the constant studying, but it was there in Salt Lake that I made the biggest decision of my life. I would leave my apartment in the morning and head west, straight down the mountain, the city spread out in front of me in a panorama. With the mountains to my back, I walked downhill, to class, to eat, to my future wife’s apartment. I walked everywhere. When it was dark, I returned uphill, pausing occasionally to look back and admire the lights in the valley below me. I lived on the foothills and had the whole city beneath my feet. I currently work near the top of a large building in New York City with a great view. But it only appears when I am in the office, I don’t hear, touch or experience the view. I merely view it. The year I spent in Salt Lake I lived the view. And I will never forget it. That life comes back when I return to the foothills.

The Fourth: Past and Present

Another Fourth of July has passed. I remember my first Fourth in New York, six years ago, taking the train down to the City, heading downtown, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and waiting with thousands of people from all walks of life, speaking dozens of languages underneath the Bridge to celebrate the Country’s birthday by viewing bright bursts of fire and gunpowder. Now, a relatively short period of time later, I spent this year’s Fourth at home with my three-year-old daughter and try to explain to her the reason for the fireworks over New York’s harbor. When her and her sister are a little bit older we will take them to see the fireworks live. But for this year, our couch and the television will suffice.

What they will never likely experience, however, is what I recall from my childhood – the purchasing of fireworks from the grocery store or Native American reservation, getting together with friends and family and putting on a show, complete with large explosives and all. Perhaps it’s a good thing that most cities have banned pedestrian firework use. I am not sure the marginal benefit of enjoying the fiery balls of light outweighs the risk of health, home and community. But those were good times. Bottle rocket wars. Roman candle fights. Blowing things up with M-80s and so on. Maybe I won’t tell my kids what they’re missing and focus on the firework shows I remember, such as New York’s spectacular annual display.