Commentary: My quest to see if Siri is good for mankind

The Rock Hill HeraldNovember 5, 2012 

I decided to leap frog over the 20th century and go directly to the 21st. I bought an iPhone 5.

I did have an older cell phone, one that flipped open, but I never used it, actually never really understood how to use it. It sat, uncharged, in a basket on the kitchen counter.

I could use it in an emergency, I told myself. Otherwise, it served as a nice paperweight.

For me, at least, cell phones have not been a necessity but rather a convenience I could largely do without. There were always alternatives, the most prominent of which was not talking to people on the phone.

At the same time, I realized how utterly lame, how antediluvian and backward that argument is. It’s like denying the utility of microwave ovens or remote controls.

Sure, I could get up and change the TV channels by hand. That’s what I did throughout the ’60s and ’70s, and the exercise wouldn’t hurt me now.

But there were only three networks back then. Imagine getting up to change the channels by hand now when there are 300 of them to choose from. And why would anyone voluntarily do that?

Likewise, while cell phones might not be an absolute necessity, like food, fire and air conditioning, they have achieved the status of practical indispensability. Past civilizations rose and fell without benefit of portable phones or, for that matter, phones of any kind, but no sane person wants to return to those days except as a re-enactor or by watching “Downton Abbey.”

So, I figured, why not make a big leap, go all the way and get the most sophisticated communication tool on the planet. I joined the herd and bought an iPhone.

It not only is more sophisticated than my flip phone, it also is more intuitive and easier to understand from the start, even though I still have a lot to learn. Verizon, by the way, offers a tutorial on how to use an iPhone.

The clerk who teaches the class said customers range from age 50 into their 80s. Conspicuously missing are all the younger people who played with cell phones in their cribs.

But I am slowly becoming somewhat more adept at the use of the iPhone just by fooling around with it myself. I have learned that, in addition to Googling things, checking the weather, taking pictures and finding out what day it is, I can use it to make phone calls.

I got three calls on my new phone during the first week – one from my son, who was standing across the room from me at the time, and two wrong-number calls from someone looking for Eve. I have even made a few calls myself.

My son got hold of my phone the other day and added about nine apps (I now know what an app is, by the way). One app tells me what song is playing and who the artist is if I point the phone at the radio. Another one offers a limitless selection of music to play on the phone itself.

I admit to being flabbergasted by the gee-whiz technology in this slim, beautiful little device. Still another app allows me to give it a phrase in English and it will translate that phrase into one of a long list of foreign languages. Uzbekistan, here I come.

I know what you’re saying: “What primeval forest has he been living in? Welcome to our world. There, there, don’t be afraid, we won’t hurt you.”

I admit I’m a latecomer, but I’m also still slightly skeptical. As awed as I am by my new phone, I’m wondering whether I really need all the stuff it has to offer. Do I really want it? Is it good for me or this one step beyond the technological saturation point?

I know just who to ask! Siri, are you good for mankind?

“No comment.”

If she knows, she’s not telling.

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