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January 8, 2011

Smartphone holdout resists pace of technology change

Daily Star

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My television is square, and my phone is stupid.

But I might not be any brighter than my phone, because I'm not one of the 100 million Americans who bought smartphones last year. (Yes, believe it or not, "smartphone" is now considered a word.) And apparently I'm not any cooler than my TV, because I have to look up what abbreviations such as LCD and LED mean when I see them in television ads. Somehow, I was able to figure out on my own what HD stood for.

Some years back, I wrote about my experience as a 5-year-old when my family got its first television. We stood back as if before a monolith as the screen filled with a snowy picture you could barely recognize. I often feel the same way today when visiting a home with one of those 48- or 60-inch wide-screens situated like an altar in a living room or large den, except that the images are crystal-clear.

My daughter and son-in-law were here in November, and he couldn't help suggesting that it might be time to upgrade from my square-screen 19-incher. Looking over the room, he said it would be perfect for a 30-some-inch wall-mounted flat-screen.

"But why?" I responded. "The one we have now works and it's only six years old. The last TV we had lasted 15 years." He shook his head, puzzled, and, walking away, said, "but it's obsolete." And that seems to be what's driving the electronic marketplace these days: Products are obsolete before their time. Many in my generation, and especially the previous one, tended to use things until they didn't work any more because the pace of technological progress was slower. Obviously, that's changed in the last decade or so with high-tech communications.

A smartphone that's a year old is already behind the rapid pace of advances in graphics, networks, platforms, apps and other attributes that only a user would be aware of. Most of those tens of millions of smartphone buyers last year already had one. They were just upgrading or changing platforms.

My phone, a basic, no-frills 2004 model, still rings when somebody calls me, still allows me to make a call and even shows me what time it is. The reason it's not "smart" is that it doesn't have Internet access or a keyboard, and it can't play songs or take and transmit photographs.

But I'm hesitant to call it names, such as a dumb-phone. And I refuse to be embarrassed when it rings with a Beatles tune in public and people see me with it. If they stare, I just say, "hey, it still works." Smartphones are even making personal-computer use obsolete for the younger generations because they just use their phones for texting, playing music and logging in to Facebook. The use of e-mail by people under age 50 has been declining the past two years by as much as 25 percent. There has been an increase in e-mail use only for the over-60 crowd.

Now, tablet-style computers such the iPad and other models soon to hit the market are going to make PCs a relic of the past. According to Forrester Research, an estimated 10.2 million U.S. adults are using tablets, with that number predicted to rise to 26.0 million this year, 50.7 million in 2012, and 82.1 million by 2015.

The technology, plug-ins and even wireless connections are now available to link PCs or tablets to newer televisions for downloading or streaming shows or movies on a large flat-screen. With all this innovation, how long can people like me hold out and keep our electronic products until they die? With e-book sales now surpassing purchases of the paper-and-cardboard variety, how much time will it take before we all have e-readers or tablets for our reading?

It definitely makes you wonder where it's all going, because there is no end in sight to the constant advances.

It's no wonder that most of the ads you see on television are for smartphones, cars, beer and pharmaceuticals. There must be some connection.

Sometimes, you feel akin to the people of a century ago who insisted they would never trade in their horses for cars, and the ones back in 1950 who were diehards about surrendering their radios in favor of televisions.

Maybe one of these days we'll figure out a way to integrate, and perhaps surpass, all our high-tech devices by planting a wireless chip in people that will permanently connect them to whatever "G" network surrounds the globe. Ultimately, people will be able to transmit or receive voices or thoughts at will.

Of course, then they'll really have to worry about who's listening in.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at