FASTER!: We live in Beta times, a lengthy and still ongoing era of electro-guinea pigs slowly evolving into cyberlab rats.
We think we're all modern and high-tech with our smartphones and iThings, our TiVo and tablets. Soon, maybe as early as Easter when you consider how our attention span and patience have been halved with every new invention, we'll be hauling all that stuff to the local elementary school's e-waste drive to raise funds for a new four-square/hopscotch court.
"I was just trying to send an email, but it takes so long," said our friend Wendy when we met her for coffee on a recent brisk winter morning.
She's right. People text now (as of Tuesday morning). Relative to email, texting is like the electronic version of the Pony Express, which rocketed a letter from coast to coast in 10 days, as opposed to the month or so it took to send a letter by stagecoach. That seemed fast, until the telegraph, which was too terse and too expensive (even the Pony Express was exorbitant, costing $1 in 1860 to send a letter). The Postal Service eventually got to the point where you could send a letter in a couple of days. FedEx and other overnighters sped that up, which brings us to the now-sluggish email being outstripped by texting.
We've become the same way with TV. Remember how cool VCRs were? You simply programmed them to record the selected channel and time, shoved a tape the size of a paperback best-seller into the machine and you
Do we even need to talk about music? About how the walls that were once taken over by our 3,000 record albums? About cassettes making music shareable? About CDs, which seemed so glorious in their eponymous compact-edness and ease of track-jumping. All of that's a hassle now, all the work and time that's required to put a record on the record-player, just for 20 minutes worth of music, several of which is taken up by songs you don't like, or the playing of a CD with all that entails. Now, it's iPods and Pandoras and Spotifys.
Don't think we're being a grumpy Andy Rooney about all this newfangledness. We love new fangles. When a new fangle comes out, we buy it: $2,000 for our first (128k!) computer; $700 for our first VCR; $300 for our first microwave. We're merely saying we're still in Beta times, when what we have now will soon be rendered if not useless, then too much of a pain to deal with as our attention span shrinks from days to hours to minutes to seconds.
You know what takes the longest time now? A potentially daily endeavor that hasn't been streamlined down to nanoseconds? A device that has yet to be Apple-ized?
The toaster. There hasn't been any meaningful advance in bread-toasting technology in our lifetime. You can download "Doctor Zhivago" from iTunes quicker than you can toast two pieces of rye bread. The only feature our toaster has that it didn't have in the 1950s is a digital display of numbers 1-9 with 1 doing nothing at all and 9 doing maybe two shades above nothing at all.
Did we say there have been no advances in toaster technology? We were wrong. According to our set of handsomely bound Wikipedias, a toaster was invented in 1990 that could be controlled from the Internet, and in 2001 a toaster was developed that could toast a graphic (limited to sunny or cloudy) on a piece of bread by dialing a pre-coded phone number to get the forecast.
That's all fine, but it doesn't get us toast any quicker. Our hankering is for 3-second toast and, until that glorious moment, and until everything else reaches its top possible speed, we remain living in Beta times.