As I was reading our cover story this month, I thought about the fast and furious advancements of telecommunications in the past couple of years. Network television has fallen off the ratings cliff, giving way to aggressive cable TV programming. And now, as our reporters point out in “Wired Milwaukee,” cable is losing ground to services that provide on-demand streaming of TV shows and movies – viewable anywhere, on screens that fill the wall of a room or fit in your hand.
Like many people, I’ve taken the plunge into the telecom service stream. I’ve become pretty capable at streaming movies and TV shows on a Roku box, using Amazon Prime and Netflix as entertainment sources of choice. I frequently read newspapers and magazines on my smartphone, and download podcasts and videos to my tablet.
The ever-changing technology requires us to pay close attention, however, lest we lose all the contacts on our smartphones or get locked out of our online bank accounts. I’ve learned the relevance of data speed and 3G vs. 4G. I know the difference between fiber optics and a fiber diet. And I’ve come to appreciate the Cloud, not as a trusted friend but as a helpful acquaintance.
Yet, at the same time, it’s hard to let go of some of the past technologies, tried-and-true “vintage” innovations that have become part of my DNA. As my son and daughter will attest, I’m Old School, maybe in more ways than I care to admit. I write my daily appointments in a spiral-bound notebook-sized engagement calendar (I’ve yet to open the calendar app on my iPhone), and I have two or three boxes in a closet that are filled with cassette tapes of music that I just can’t bring myself to part with.
But Old School isn’t necessarily bad or wrong. There are past-generation technologies that have lasting quality and value.
Take the landline. It’s reliable, often the sound quality is better than a mobile phone, and it provides an interpersonal function that still has a unique value. A cell phone is personal property. My wife and I each have our own cell, naturally, and we seldom answer each other’s phone. But we also keep a landline phone system in our home, a shared, communal means of communicating with the outside world.
There are shortcuts and exceptions. FaceTime, Skype and other real-time telecom apps are popular. And the use of speaker phones and caller ID is second nature for most users. But speaker phone conversations can be annoyingly impersonal. And caller ID is something of an unwanted spoiler alert. On a landline, it’s easy to ignore these contrivances. And that’s OK sometimes.
Frequently, the landline will ring with a call for my wife, and if I pick up the receiver (and ignore caller ID), I have the accidental opportunity to connect with a friend or neighbor or member of the family. It’s like someone dropping by unexpectedly for a walk around the block and a beer, Old School and gratifying.