I love physical books. I also love my Kindle Paperwhite and I also love my iPad. All of them are wonderful objects, and oh yes, they allow me to read. The reading, you see, is the important part.
You wouldn’t know it, though, from the testimonials of some who dismiss ebooks and swear only by physical codices. In her essay in The Guardian, Paula Cocozza gives a slight nod to the pleasures of reading on paper versus screens, which I do not disagree with, but much of the column is a celebration of the physical book, not for its contents, but for its physical properties and how they can be creatively embellished upon:
Once upon a time, people bought books because they liked reading. Now they buy books because they like books. “All these people are really thinking about how the books are – not just what’s in them, but what they’re like as objects,” says Jennifer Cownie, who runs the beautiful Bookifer website and the Cownifer Instagram, which match books to decorative papers, and who bought a Kindle but hated it. Summerhayes thinks that “people have books in their house as pieces of art … Everyone wants sexy-looking books,” she says.
Do they? And if they do, well, so what? People want sexy-looking everything!
This obviously doesn’t speak to the superiority of books over ebooks as means to reading. It’s a display of fetishism for a product, the reduction of the book from medium to fashion item. If overly expensive smartphones are gaudy status symbols, then what do you call artsy displays of shelved volumes that are never actually opened?
I’ve actually come to appreciate physical books more than ever lately as I have tried very hard to steer my attention away from the constant stress and panic of social media. Kindles are actually great for that all on their own, since they can’t do much of anything other than display, notate, research, or purchase book content. (Oh, and they’re self-illuminating, which is a huge leg up on mere paper.) But there is that one additional step of removal from the online swarm that one can achieve with a physical book that is often deeply refreshing, and I am finding at times necessary. I am re-learning to treasure that.
And as much as I do appreciate a book’s physical properties (yes I am one of those “I love the smell of old books” weirdos), I don’t concern myself with books as art objects or accessories. My positive associations with books as objects, the reason I like the smell of paper, dust, and glue, has almost entirely to do with what’s inside them, how the words affect me, and how the experience of reading saves me from the world.
It’s fine to argue that physical books are better than ebooks. But if all you’re talking about is which makes for a better subject for photographic projects, you’re missing the whole point.
I admit it. When I walk through an airport (which I’ve done quite a lot of in the past couple of weeks), and see almost every pair of eyes staring at a phone or tablet screen, I get the feeling that something is wrong. It bothers me.
This is of course absurd if you know anything about me.
I adore smartphones and tablets and computers. I also hate being around groups of people, particularly strangers. In large part due to my Asperger’s syndrome, I’m deeply averse to casual human interaction, small talk, and establishing connections with people in meatspace. The smartphone and its ancillary technologies are a gift to someone like me; yes, as a way to escape and feed my mind and sate my need for dopamine squirts, but also as a means for me to communicate and build relationships on my terms, in my own time, and at a safe distance. I am serious when I say that I am so very grateful for these devices.
And yet. As my eyes survey a public space stuffed with humans, just about literally all transfixed on their phones, I can’t help but feel like something has gone wrong. I mean, they’re not all autistics and introverts, right?
If anything, I should be relieved. The more people who are engaged with their devices, the fewer there are to creep into my space and demand my attention and energy. As it is, I blend right in, which has been perhaps the chief aim of my existence in physical space since I was 10 years old.
Am I being weirdly territorial? Do I resent the normals of the world encroaching on my virtual space and leaning on my crutch? I mean after all, I’m in that space to get away from everyone, not meet up with them through a different venue.
Nah. These people may be online, but they’re still nowhere near me.
And anyway, I’ve argued before that there’s no reason to be judgmental about someone using a phone. Yes, it appears to the observer that all phone-gawkers are the same, passively consuming some digital confection of little to no value. But for all anyone knows, this person might be reading a scientific paper, that one might be engrossed in a rich novel, and that one might be reviewing important job-related correspondences. There’s no way to know.
But, you know, probably not. We still have no room to judge, though. I know that sometimes the best thing a person can do to heal psychological exhaustion is to vegetate for a bit, and rest one’s higher processes.
I suppose some of this has a lot to do with my own conditioning. I grew up to expect people to be interacting with each other when they’re in proximity. Lord knows I was never good at this, or ever liked it — indeed, it’s usually painful. But I knew that I was different for feeling this way, wrong, and well before I was ever diagnosed as autistic or sought therapy for my difficulties. I was the odd duck, while everyone else was doing it right. I learned, correctly or incorrectly, that this socially connective norm was right. To step back out into the world now, and in such a short space of time see things change so drastically, is jarring. I think, what happened to all of you?
For a few weeks now I’ve been chewing over in my mind the recent New York Magazineessay by Andrew Sullivan, where he cops to becoming consumed by the digital space, recounts his efforts to center himself and his priorities, and worries aloud about what the new smartphone era is doing to society as a whole.
I deeply respect Sullivan — he is a major influence on my work, even when I disagree with him. And here, I do feel like his own, very real feelings of loss and panic have caused him to project too much on the rest of the world.
Nonetheless, let’s consider some of his observations.
As I had discovered in my blogging years, the family that is eating together while simultaneously on their phones is not actually together. They are, in [Sherry] Turkle’s formulation, “alone together.” You are where your attention is. If you’re watching a football game with your son while also texting a friend, you’re not fully with your child — and he knows it. Truly being with another person means being experientially with them, picking up countless tiny signals from the eyes and voice and body language and context, and reacting, often unconsciously, to every nuance. These are our deepest social skills, which have been honed through the aeons. They are what make us distinctively human.
That feels worrying, to be sure. There’s something rather disquieting about the idea that we’re slowly atrophying our fundamental humanity. I don’t know that we actually are, but he’s at least succeeded in scaring me a little.
But look at one of the examples he uses here. “If you’re watching a football game with your son while also texting a friend…” In a hypothetical scenario in which a person is lost in digital distraction, he chooses another form of distraction as the venue: watching a football game. He doesn’t say whether he means watching one on television or in person, but it almost doesn’t matter. He’s talking about two people in the same place being distracted by the passive viewing of the same meaningless thing. A game! I absolutely grant that the parent and child here are missing out on the chance to connect over a shared experience as a result of the parent’s texting, but it remains that the original activity was one of passive consumption in the first place. (To be clear, I think the parent in this scenario should definitely put the phone away and be with their kid — I’m just pointing out the weirdness and the irony of the scenario Sullivan has chosen.)
Now put aside for a moment the parent-child aspect of this. Sullivan presumes that the connections being established over a digital medium while watching a football game are less valuable or less meaningful because they don’t occur in meatspace. I’m not refuting that per se, but I’m also not prepared to grant it axiomatically. I have what I consider to be very meaningful relationships and connections with people I have never met in person, and exist to me primarily as Twitter avatars or what have you, and I truly appreciate them during shared experiences like presidential debates. But again, I’m also autistic. And I also know that my in-person connections to people like my wife and children are more valuable and meaningful to me than all the smartphones in South Korea.
So like Sullivan I strongly suspect, if not from my own inner life then from my observation of other humans, that people need these social skills that have been “honed through the aeons.” But there are countless tiny signals and nuances in the digital realm as well, so there is the possibility that we are just honing new skills that will adapt us to a changing world.
It’s kind of the story of human civilization anyway, isn’t it? A wandering species of animal that somehow stumbles along building megacities and spacecraft and internets as its neocortices and amygdalae do-si-do throughout the millennia, hoping we don’t murder too many of each other and open too big of a hole in the food chain for some other species to become the boss. (I’m looking at you, octopuses.)
Sullivan also says that spirituality itself is being replaced by the unavoidable ambience of consumable content, because spirituality requires silence.
The reason we live in a culture increasingly without faith is not because science has somehow disproved the unprovable, but because the white noise of secularism has removed the very stillness in which it might endure or be reborn.
That’s a bit of a reach. The claims about the nature of reality made by faith traditions have indeed been disproven bit by bit over the ages, and we do now live at a time when they have been so utterly demolished by science — and even lived experience — that the outright rejection of faith in general becomes an increasingly tenable and normal condition. Has the noise of media contributed to this? Almost certainly, but I think it’s as much the content of that noise as it is the quantity.
However, I think there can be little doubt that our current state of affairs is one in which there is precious little space for silence. And too many of us aren’t wise enough to seek it out of our own volition. Sullivan got wise, but only after driving himself to the brink. I am also very new to the notion that silence, space, and meditation (in the broadest sense) are not just sometimes pleasant or preferable, but necessary, physiologically and psychically. Silence is medicine I must remember to take.
And I must remember it on my own. Apart from the encouragement of my wife and therapist, there is no mechanism built into the digital age’s social infrastructure that either imposes or easily facilitates this (unless the power grid goes down). Our world is built on an increasingly complex lattice, made up of strands of distraction. For now, the choice is entirely our own to close our eyes and refuse to follow each strand as it passes our awareness. And it’s a choice that becomes more and more difficult to make all the time.
Those hundreds of people I see in one glance around the airport, each to a person gazing into an imperceptibly dense mosaic of pixels; if they’re not interacting with each other as I have grown to expect them to, I wonder if they ever find silence. I wonder if they ever seek it.
As an Aspie, I am highly sensitive to noise, crowds, and torrents of stimuli. So maybe that’s what concerns me when I see them, that I unconsciously perceive that even if I can’t literally hear it, there exists among this sea of glowing rectangles an ever-increasing amount of noise, forming into a tidal wave of clamor that will eventually sweep me out to sea.
Settle in as I express my deep disappointment at Apple, and then turn around and vigorously defend them on a totally separate point. On one issue, I find them being arbitrarily and arrogantly dismissive of an enormous proportion of their users, and on another, I find them with what users need and want from a smartphone. They are simultaneously in tune and tone deaf. I know, it’s dizzying! Join me, won’t you?
As you are no doubt aware, the newly-announced iPhone 7 and 7 Plus do not have standard headphone jacks. No reason they’ve offered up for this decision holds water to me, and the fact that Phil Schiller characterized the decision as an example of “courage” is simply laughable. There’s no feature or innovation of the iPhones 7 that, as far as I can tell, required nixing the headphone jack. And its presence wouldn’t have prevented them emphasizing Lightning port-connected or wireless headphones. They could still have included Lightning headphones in the box, if they really think they’re so much better than analogue headphones.
I know the term is becoming cliché, but ditching the headphone jack is user-hostile. iPhones, to be sure, are high-end luxury devices, and on paper you might presume that anyone who can afford one can certainly make a change to all-wireless or all-Lightning headphones without much pain. But we all know that freaking everyone has iPhones. With carrier subsidies and installment plans, iPhone owners span economic strata. People of all means, ages, and technical acumen own iPhones, and want to have the latest iPhones.
Headphones, meanwhile, are a real democratizing technology. Yes, there are high-end headphones that cost ridiculous amounts of money, and even “mid-range” headphones are out of reach for many consumers. But anyone can afford cheap earbuds and enjoy the audio on their phones. Companies like Panasonic make incredibly inexpensive and well-regarded headphones that anyone can buy and afford to replace if they get lost or break. Headphones can be had by anyone, and enable anyone to hear what their phone can produce.
Apple doesn’t care about that anymore. I know they included a Lightning-to-analogue adapter, but people will lose it. They included Lightning EarPods in the box, but those will also get lost or break. And millions and millions of people already own headphones they already like, and Apple’s decided that it doesn’t really matter. Headphones were the great equalizer for these astoundingly-great, expensive, high-end electronics. Not anymore, as far as Apple’s concerned, and I think that kind of sucks.
This is part of why this is not analogous to Apple’s rejection of previous computing standards, like their nixing of floppy drives from the iMac and the end of optical drives in latter-day MacBooks: the user-base of floppy and optical drives does not begin to approach the universality of analogue headphones. Excluding floppy and optical drives in computers effected a certain subset of consumers who 1) used computers, 2) used Macs, and 3) made regular use of those drives. That’s a fraction of a fraction of a fraction. On the other hand, we have the set if people who use iPhones (approximately 79 bazillion), and the subset of those who rely on the headphones jack (approximately all). It’s a failed analogy.
Now, they have every right to change their product any way they choose, and the market can decide whether or not such a change is a deal-breaker. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s wise or in keeping with the ethos I feel like they purport to be guided by.
As competitors have borrowed and even begun to surpass Apple’s best designs, what was iconic about the company’s phones, computers, tablets and other products has come to seem generic. …
… The bigger problem is an absence of delight. I recently checked in with several tech-pundit friends for their assessment of Apple’s aesthetic choices. “What was the last Apple design that really dazzled you?” I asked.
There was a small chorus of support for the MacBook, the beautifully tiny (if functionally flawed) laptop that Apple released last year. But most respondents were split between the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 5 — two daring smartphone designs that were instantly recognized as surpassing anything else on the market.
Readers of this blog know that I have not been an iPhone user since the 5S, and have happily been in the land of Android…almost too happy. So I have no brand-identity motivation to defend Apple’s choices. (I mean, I just got finished crapping all over them, so.)
I’ve heard a lot of this kind of hand-wringing over the fact that the iPhone hasn’t changed in its broader design over three product generations. I shared some of this feeling for a while, wondering why Apple hadn’t been going out of its way to blow us all away with some delightful new novelty in phone design. But now I think I get it.
What’s a smartphone, really? It’s a computer with a touch display, meant to be held in the hand. There are theoretically any number of ways one could approach coming up with a form factor for such a device, but particularly when you’re talking about something so utterly ubiquitous as an iPhone, there’s not a lot of wiggle room left after you get down to “thin rounded rectangle.”
Now, I adore some of the more novel smartphone designs of many Android phones. I thought the LG G4 was surprisingly wonderful with its leather back and ever-so-slightly curved screen; Motorola’s 2014/2015 aesthetic with sloping backs, rear “dimples,” and metallic edges I thought was delightfully striking; the Nextbit Robin is beautifully quirky and industrial; and of course Samsung’s current line of Galaxy S and Note devices are almost jewel-like. They’re all great.
But the current iPhone design is great, too. I’ll admit, I at first was a little underwhelmed by the look of the 6-era iPhones when they were introduced. But hold a 6/6S Plus in your hand (without a case) and the cold, smooth feel of it is startling. You almost feel like you shouldn’t be trusted with something like it. Before we switched carriers, my wife had the black iPhone 6-regular, and I was jealous of it. Not for its software experience, but just for that shape and that color.
But even if I hadn’t personally found the iPhone design so evocative and attractive, the market has spoken, and it has said loud and clear with the chorus of tens of millions of voices, “This design is great.” People like the shape and feel of iPhones as they are now.
And that design also just works. People find it sufficiently ergonomic, and the basic form factor allows Apple to put into the phone what it feels like it has to (at least up until its rebuff of the 1/8″ aux port). You know what that also sounds like? Computers. Which the iPhone is, by the way.
Look at Apple’s MacBooks. They fiddle around the edges of the design, but all in all, their laptops have looked more or less the same since 2001. The biggest shift in design was the MacBook Air which morphed to the current-day suffix-less MacBook, and that’s been consistent since 2011. This is because those forms work really, really well and also happen to look really good. And really, the entire laptop industry is essentially made up of products that are variations on screen-that-folds-down-on-keyboard. I mean, tablets haven’t been able to meaningfully hurt laptops because it turns out that the platonic laptop form is just about right.
Here’s more from the Manjoo piece:
The company says it does not change its designs just for the sake of change; the current iPhone design, which debuted in 2014, has sold hundreds of millions of units, so why mess with success? In a video accompanying the iPhone 7 unveiling on Wednesday, Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design chief, called the device the “most deliberate evolution” of its design vision for the smartphone.
As much as I have been rolling my eyes at the grand pronouncements of Jonny Ive of late, I agree with him here. The design is deliberate, not the result of a lack of vision. They got it right in 2014, right for the market as it exists. To interpret the fact that they didn’t totally overhaul the iPhone form (perhaps a sphere? or something like this?) as a lack of vision or chops is, I think, short-sighted, and probably a symptom of focusing on a relatively new device category as it starts to mature.
I think it’s enough that each new phone released by any manufacturer is better than its predecessor. There are a lot of ways to be “better,” and only one of them is cosmetically.
And shit, you’re just going to put a case on it anyway.
Damages were paid today to many, many people in the aftermath of the Apple iBooks price fixing case. Paid, specifically, to iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon customers, those whom the government determined to have been harmed by Apple’s collusion with the publishing industry to keep ebook prices high.
$400 million was awarded to customers. About twenty-five of those 400 million were given to me in the form of Amazon credit. Credit I could not use, of course, because a little over a year ago Amazon exiled me for “excessive returns.” I had made several heartfelt entreaties in those days, but was each time denied. I was banished.
Being legally owed today’s settlement credit, but unable to do anything with it, I decided to ask Amazon what should be done. I suggested they might just cut me a check, and if not, I would next ask if they could simply award it to my wife (who got a way bigger credit than me, but whatever). Of course, I also suggested that they might just reinstate me.
Here’s part of the response I got back.
And that was that. All my sins forgiven, and even an apology given to me for “any inconvenience.”
I am once again welcome to roam the virtual aisles of the Everything Store. Wiser, more cautious, but welcome.
Perhaps this has something to do with the political climate. Perhaps Jeff Bezos, who loathes Donald Trump, wishes as Hillary Clinton does to build bridges, not walls. Or perhaps this was Amazon being in a celebratory mood over their moral victory over the behemoth Apple. Whatever the reason, it’s good to be back.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some heavy Wish List maintenance to attend to.
A smartphone doesn’t die without an LTE connection. Much to the contrary, the first thing I notice about airplane mode is my improved battery life. And then, of course, there’s Wi-Fi. I have Wi-Fi at home, I have Wi-Fi at the office, and I have Wi-Fi at my primary evening hangout spot. It’s almost like having an iPod Touch, except my iPhone is newer and better than an iPod touch … So, basically, my phone still works. … And I can call people just fine over FaceTime or Google Hangouts. I prefer it, in fact. FaceTime Audio sounds way better than a regular phone call, and both Hangouts and FaceTime can add video chat to the experience.
With the deep resentment I feel toward wireless carriers, and my own consistent lack of being rich, I’ve long desired to opt out of them altogether, and just rely on Wi-Fi.
But shit happens out in the open world. The advent of plain old dumb-phone cell phones saved my butt in innumerable situations in the aughts, situations I was painfully aware would have been disasters had they occurred just a year or so before, when I was one of those people who thought cellphones were ostentatious and unnecessary.
And I have kids, and I need to be available, period. So there’s that.
I think there’s something else going on here. When your smartphone isn’t a phone anymore… it’s just a computer. And that’s kind of beautiful to me.
Yeah, I much prefer to think of these things as computers rather than telephones. Telephones are conduits for obligations. Computers are, well, everything.
Jerry Hildenbrand is the deep thinker of the Android blogosphere. While the default response to everything Samsung does with its phones is to express exasperation, Jerry has a different perspective. In his review of the Galaxy S7 Edge, he says:
I want Samsung to never stop messing around with Android and making it their own. The open source part of Android is made better by companies doing stuff to it and changing it. That’s how open source software works. I wish more of what they do was available to everyone at the code level, but the ideas and the critical changes that improve Android make their way back to Google. They then make their way to everyone. Every good thing Samsung does makes Android better. Every stupid thing Samsung does makes Android better.
I can take 20 minutes and strip away the stuff I don’t want. I can disable or uninstall some of it. I can hide most of the remainder. Buh-bye Milk Music. Adios Gear Manager. Go away forever Flipboard Briefing. You can do the same things to the stuff you don’t want.
It’s the Apple ethos to presume that there is some platonic ideal for a given product, but Google’s has always been about inviting tinkering and elaboration. Despite this admittedly overly-broad distinction, the common wisdom is that Android is best, and indeed only really acceptable, when it’s pure, stock Android straight from Google.
But that’s Apple thinking. There’s nothing wrong with Apple thinking, it’s resulted in some of the most beautiful and popular products ever made in any category. But it’s not the idea behind the Google ethos…or at least its mythos.
Hardware companies going all-out to make Android work as well as it can for their devices is the right idea. It happens, alas, that very often (more often than not?) they go too far, or simply do it poorly. The most acclaimed versions of Android tend to be the most untouched, like Motorola’s or Nvidia’s. LG, HTC, and especially Samsung are berated for loading Android up with gimmicks and bloatware.
But just as Jerry says, some of those gimmicks aren’t just gimmicks, but valuable new features. And sometimes gimmicks evolve into valuable features. And sometimes, a variation on Android suits the device in question so well, it’s a revelation. Many will point to Motorola’s ambient display, which was quickly adopted by many other manufacturers. But my favorite is Samsung’s S Pen for the Note series. The precision and usefulness of the stylus is unmatched by almost any accessory I’ve used for any phone.
And that’s because of Samsung’s software, that’s “TouchWiz.”
So yeah, keep at it, Samsung, and all you other guys. I mean, try to keep it sane. You know, have some mercy. But keep at it.
I am either very stupid, or something strange is going on. I’m leaning heavily toward the former, but, nonetheless, mark me.
I have never liked screen protectors on phones. It used to be that they clouded the display and reduced the sensitivity of the touch sensors. Plus, they were and are extremely difficult to apply without misaligning them, getting air bubbles that won’t push out, or dust trapped underneath that can never be unseen. Eventually, too, they would fray or peel. In other words, a total shitshow.
But clearly they have vastly improved since the time I avoided them, circa 2011. Now there are brands that are robust, invisible, and have no effect on touch sensitivity, and they come in both a kind that is sort of plasticky film as well as hard tempered glass. I once bought a used tablet with the screen protector already applied, and it convinced me that these things were now up to snuff.
Nonetheless, I could never get one on myself to my satisfaction. With each attempt to install one on my phone, with either the film or glass kinds, I would screw it up to the point that the protector became unusable. Usually, even when all other things had been done right, there would still be some dust or crap I’d discover, taunting me from beneath the transparency. Away would go to the protector.
But then a few days ago, I took one last shot with a Spigen Crystal screen protector, of the plasticky film variety, which came in a pack of three. I made sure I did everything very carefully, but not so intensely carefully that I’d make a mistake by overthinking. And after I pulled the front cover off the the screen protector, I was amazed: Perfectly straight, no bubbles, no dust. I smiled from ear to ear. And it looked and performed perfectly.
After a few days, though, I thought that maybe it was too perfect. I found that I couldn’t even tell it was there. Not as in “oh, you’ll just forget it’s there,” but as in, “wait a minute, where are the cutouts around the speaker and the home button?”
I stared and rubbed and scraped and could not for the life of me find the borders of the protector. Was I going mad? I took out the unused protectors from the package to compare, and seeing their cutouts I was convinced.
There was no screen protector on my phone.
What on Earth was going on? I had done this phenomenal job of perfectly applying a screen protector for the first time in my life, and now it’s just gone?? How could that be?? I retraced my use of the phone as best I could until I remembered back to the installation itself – that perfect installation. Was is too perfect?
It dawned on me. Perhaps, oh god perhaps, when I peeled off the protective front layer of the screen protector, I had also unwittingly peeled off the protector itself, and simply never noticed. Could I be that stupid? Could I really make myself believe that I had done a perfect job of installing a screen protector when in fact there was none there at all? And there I had been, using my phone with less concern about scratches on the screen, thinking there was a layer of defense that was all in my head. I am fortunate I didn’t perpetrate any horrors upon its glass.
I am capable of some epic idiocy, but this seemed too much even for me.
And yet, I am forced to conclude that it is the most likely explanation. The only alternatives I can think of would be that someone intentionally peeled it off (and who would that be? My kids? I never leave this phone where they could get to it), or it came off by itself, perhaps in a pocket. But how shoddy could this product be that this would happen a mere day or so after installation? Neither of those explanations seem plausible.
So in all likeliness, I am just extremely stupid. Perhaps you knew this already.
If there is a silver lining, it is that I made a second attempt with another one of the protectors, and I did it pretty much perfectly, again for the first time. There’s a little bit of a “halo” around the very edges where the phone’s glass curves a smidge, but it doesn’t bother me. Otherwise, nicely straight, no bubbles, and no dust. And, again, it performs just fine.
And I have learned something, something about the depths to which we can fool ourselves, and believe things that are not so, despite was is literally right in front of us, in our hands, and under our fingertips.
Everyone you love and everyone you know and everything you touch will someday be gone. We will lose our lovers, our friends, our parents, our children, our animals, ourselves. The pain will be almost intolerable. The jobs we define ourselves by will end. Anything you make with your own two hands will eventually be dust. It will take only a few generations for you to be completely forgotten within your own family.
And this passage by Keep about the unbearable inevitability of death, this is exactly why I (like other white, male, no-longer-young tech enthusiasts) am so attracted to transhumanism in the abstract. We find ourselves living at a time when the ascent of computer superintelligences and, simultaneously, our ability to “meld” with computers are remarkably plausible. Perhaps not certain or even likely, but it’s out there in the hypothetical “someday.” If you squint, you can almost faintly see the event horizon of the Singularity.
And because I’m/we’re no longer young, we feel the tension, the gravitational pull, the off-putting gaze of death. We don’t have to squint to see it over the horizon. We just can’t quite tell how far away it is, exactly, but we know for certain it’s there.
So it’s a race, of sorts, or we imagine it to be. Two runners, death (nature) and immortality (technology), and the finish line is our lives.
We’re rooting for the Singularity, or at least for technology to save us from death. But right now, it’s no more than rooting, and for an underdog no less (or no more). If you’re like me and pushing 40, being saved by technology is a lot less likely than it is for, say, my kids.
But even so, we’re talking about something ineffable, really. A notion, a dream, nothing that’s been proven to be the case, to be imminent. We don’t know that technology will defeat death, or even vastly extend and preserve human life. We just really, really hope, and see inklings of possibilities. But that’s not enough for anyone to be hanging their hats on. To be working on? Investing in? Sure, fine.
I can’t afford to get my hopes up about it, though. I couldn’t bear the disappointment. The grief-upon-grief-upon-regret. I can watch for developments, and I can cheer on advances. But I can’t let myself believe in it.
But, oh, would I like to. I would like to so very much.
I’m not an iPhone user at the moment, so in the near-term I don’t really care what Apple does to its phones. But it can’t be denied that anything significant that Apple does with its most important product will likely be aped by most other manufacturers, if they aren’t already doing the same thing.
And the problem is that I seem to have some sort of ocular allergy to OLED. Throughout my Year of Phones, several of the units I tried out had AMOLED or Super AMOLED displays, and I recently spent some time with a Dell Venue 8 7000 tablet, which is OLED. And with only one exception, all of the OLED devices gave me headaches when looking at them for more than a few minutes. Indeed, I feel the strain on my eyes almost immediately.
I have no solid explanation for why this is so. OLED devices with which I’ve had significant experience, Notes 4 and 5 and the Venue 8, while they are truly excellent, each gave me the same problem. I thought perhaps that there might be some difference between Samsung’s proprietary “Super AMOLED” and Dell’s vanilla “OLED,” but no. They both produced the same effect.
And no settings-tweaking helped. Lowering the brightness, lowering the saturation level, adjusting hues, nothing mattered.
Some folks in forums have speculated to me that this has to do with an imperceptible “flicker” that OLED displays produce and LCDs don’t, but that’s just a guess from a few people who are otherwise as stumped by this as I am.
There was one exception, however, the Nexus 6, the device with which I had a stormy relationship. That has a Quad-HD AMOLED display just like the Notes 4 and 5, and yet with all the problems and delights I had with that device, I don’t recall headaches being an issue at all. I have no idea why.
On the flip side are LCD displays, like that on my beloved LG G4, and on every iPhone and iPad ever. I have never had any problem gawking at iDevice screens for hours on end, and my G4 Quad-HD LCD display is so lovely I can sometimes hardly believe it.
Also, I’ve seen far more problems with OLED displays than LCDs. This is anecdotal experience, of course, but on OLED screens I see far more burn-in, ghosting, dark spots, dead pixels, and the like. I do know that it’s currently a fact that they degrade more quickly than LCDs. They seem, from my personal experience, to be far less reliable.
But now Apple will, well, saturate the market with OLED, making it the new normal. OLED displays, at their best, are far more eye-catching and rich than most LCDs (though the G4’s is right up there), so they have obvious appeal. But if they are less reliable, why would Apple commit to them so wholeheartedly?
Boy Genius Reports speculates that Apple is prepared for OLED’s degradation problem, saying, “It stands to reason that Apple is confident that the aforementioned drawbacks can and will be addressed in the years ahead.” But I don’t think that needs to be true at all. Apple has already introduced its own leasing program so that folks can get new a new iPhone model every year, so we know that Apple very much wants to push regular consumers to upgrade at a rate that’s high even for many tech enthusiasts. If they’re confident that an enormous number of their users are going to get rid of their phones after a year anyway, why should they care if the OLED displays start to lose their “oomph”? You’re buying the new one anyway.
But what this all means for me (which is what this is really about, remember) is that the best phones on the market in the coming years will all be OLED in one way or another, which means that, unless they change something as-yet-undiagnosed in the displays or my eyeballs, I will be squinting in agony at the objects I would otherwise hold most dear. It’s like an Van Gogh devotee who gets a small electric shock whenever they look at one of his paintings.
There is still the anomaly of the Nexus 6. Perhaps there’s something in the way its display was made that holds the answer. Or perhaps LG will continue to improve its LCD displays to the point where it’ll be clear that it’s the better alternative.