After my old phone failed for no apparent reason, I feared that I’d lost quite a lot of data, and that it would take weeks to get my life back in working order.
Half an hour after I entered the store where I buy phones, I walked out with a new device containing all the same data as my old device.
It hit me then that, since the advent of the Internet, and later cloud computing, the miracle of distributed data has saved humans tens of billions of hours in time that otherwise would have been spent recreating data or otherwise making up for its disappearance.
Now, for the price of thirteen hours of minimum-wage labor in Connecticut (less taxes), plus five more hours per month (less taxes), I own a machine that, for no extra cost, replicates the functioning of a collection of objects (television, telephone, calculator, kitchen timer, Walkman, atlas, calendar, voice recorder, pager, newspaper) that would have, in 1990, cost me much more than the phone does now, taken up much more space, and consumed much more paper, water, plastic, and electricity in the process.
And while the first smartphones were tools of luxury, they are now owned by a majority of Americans, and will be in the hands of a majority of Chinese and Indians by 2025, perhaps even sooner. Meanwhile, this dystopian short story describes something very close to what the world was like fifteen years ago.
There are downsides to living in the Age of the Phone. But it seems to me as though this is a pretty good time to be alive. And I can’t wait to see where the next generation of engineers will take us.
Requiem for lost data: The only thing that failed to back up was a collection of melodies I’d hummed, whistled, and scat-sang to my phone after my most inspiring showers. I’ll never get those melodies back, but I’ll replace them with new ones. Meanwhile, iPhone users—be careful with your Voice Memos.