I SUDDENLY REALISED WHO I WAS. I saw I’d become THAT man, the one I hate to get stuck behind. I was at the boarding gate at the airport, fumbling with my phone, trying to bring up my boarding pass on my Air New Zealand app. A queue behind, a patient young man at the counter in front, and, between them, me: poking at my smartphone with unsmart fingers.
Those fingers used to be able to skilfully tune a valve radio, thread a movie projector, change the needle on a gramophone, and deftly rewind an audio-cassette with a ball-point pen. And suddenly those fingers were making me feel as out-of-date as those technologies. “Old people with technology,” I apologised, self-deprecatingly.
“Gosh, you’re not old! In fact, you are very up-to-date using an app instead of a paper boarding pass!” By the way, the attendant did not say that. No one did. That’s just my little fantasy. Instead the young man actually said something like, “At least you are using it,” but in a condescending way that sounded a lot like, “I am amazed that someone as old as you is still breathing.”
It hurt to be humiliated by new technology because all my life I have loved gadgets. I am an ‘early adopter’: if there was a new gadget, I got it before anyone else. My first computer was the size of a fridge, my first cell phone had a curly cord connecting it to a big pack. As a student, I worked part-time as an AV tech at university, and I got my hands on one of the first portable video cameras. The camera was the size of a cake-mixer and the ‘Portapak’ recorder slung over my shoulder weighed about as much as my car, but WOW! A TV studio you could carry! It made grainy black-and-white videos that I thought were wonderful.
But, seriously, my phone would just giggle hysterically if it could see them now. (I just checked – there is a Hysterical Giggle app.) My modern phone makes beautiful movies that are literally cinema quality. And the still photos it takes are unbelievable. Because it is a Huawei, the pictures get automatically uploaded to the Chinese Intelligence Agency who retouch them and send them back to me. They are as good as – often better than – the pictures I took on the huge professional camera I owned when I moonlighted as a wedding photographer.
So I love my modern gadgets (except when they confuse me at airport departure gates) but I do sigh, though: there used to be a lot more gadgets to love back in my day. (I had a day… I think it was 8 April 1985).
I recently saw a full-page ad for electronics from way back then. It advertised computers, game consoles, walkie-talkies, answering machines, walkmen, telephones, stopwatches, calculators, still- and video-cameras, tape-recorders and video players. I owned versions of all of them. Now I have a phone that does all that they did and more, and I also have a garage-cum-museum full of redundant technology. I never throw anything out. If VHS video recorders or 8mm movie cameras ever make a come-back, I shall, once again, be ahead of the pack. And if you ever need a dictation machine or a slide projector, just send me a fax.
My wife doesn’t really understand why she can hardly fit her car in the garage because of my boxes of dusty gadgets. I call it collecting; she calls it junk. According to David Attenborough, men are far more likely to be collectors than women. He connects it to the fact that we are hunters. But I think it is because we are lovers, and we are loyal. I loved those gadgets, so I give them a home in their retirement. My wife should be glad of that loyalty trait. And she should also be glad it doesn’t extend to old girlfriends.
JOHN COWAN IS A REFUGEE FROM THE 20TH CENTURY WHO LOVES HIS NEW HOME IN THE 21ST.