Living In The Future, Keeping It In Your Pocket

by Randy Murray on February 28, 2012

I bought a new camera the other day. It doesn’t matter which one—they change so rapidly. It literally took me months to make up my mind and choose one.

I find digital cameras frustrating. When I was a kid I got a good quality 35mm camera and used it for over twenty years. It was still in perfect working order when I sold it and bought a new camera. Now I regret letting it go, but then again, I could go down to the excellent Columbus Camera Group and buy one very much like it for a few bucks.

The most use I’ve gotten out of a digital camera is about five years. The last one I bought about five years ago and has mostly sat on the shelf for over a year while we used the quite passible cameras in our iPhone 4 (not “S”, just 4).

And while the camera in the iPhone 4 and the superior iPhone 4S are very good, the lens is tiny and they don’t take great pictures in many situations. And we found that we just didn’t feel comfortable without a really good camera. On the other hand, we didn’t want to spend thousands and get a big Single Lens Reflex (SLR) with lots of interchangeable lenses to carry around. I asked friends who know about these things, queried the net, and bought a camera. It still took me months to actually go out and buy it (and by that time, the camera that had been recommended had moved on to the next model).

It’s a pretty good camera, but what is astonishing is just how much real super tech is hidden inside this package smaller than a deck of cards.

It will take very good photos in almost any situation. That’s the baseline. But it also has integrated GPS, so it knows where each photo is taken. I bought two 32 gigabyte SD memory cards—Class 10 high speed memory cards. Each cost less than $40 and each will hold up to 10,000 12 megapixel pictures or two hours of high definition, widescreen video (1080p). A few years ago I paid thousands of dollars for 2 megabyte chips for computers, and now I’m buying little pieces of metal, plastic, and silicon with orders of magnitude more memory for forty bucks. I also recall that before my first daughter was born I bought a pretty good 35mm camera for around $300 (which we still have and which still works), but it’s big and heavy. It takes between 24 and 36 photos on a roll of film. We also bought a VHS video camera. It too was big and heavy, the kind that you had to balance on your shoulder like a TV news crew. It would record two hours of grainy video on a single tape, if you had enough battery power. My new digital camera weighs a fraction of what the battery for that old unit did.

When you look at the LCD covered back of the new camera and point it at something, the camera is alive with information, the type of display we’d see when watching a futuristic movie. If I’m pointing the camera at a person or group of people, it recognizes faces and puts little squares around them, focusing automatically. If something is moving, it will track them. There is astonishing computing power in this little camera. And there’s nothing particularly special about this specific make and model. Virtually all modern cameras have these capabilities.

You may be new to the world and things may have always seemed this way to you, but I am not. I see that there are astonishing leaps in technology that many others take for granted. Just in this one device costing a bit over $400 are capabilities and powers that twenty years ago would taken a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars to fake with special effects for a high-flying science fiction movie.

Yes, the toaster still browns bread by overheating wires, but I carry a Star Trek communicator/tricorder in my pocket, just like millions of other people. There are lots of things that people think of as futuristic high tech, like shooting rockets into space, but those things are actually very low tech items, things we’ve been doing since World War II. And this is the problem with the rapidly accelerating sci-fi world. It’s leaping ahead of us, ending up in our pockets without us even realizing what we have. Someday, soon, we’ll likely all wake up with our jetpacks and rocket cars and ask ourselves, “When did that happen?”

It happened yesterday.

A word or two on the term “Sci-fi.” Sci-fi is a very fifties sounding word, and for good reasons. America in the fifties was mesmerized by the rocket-whizzing science fiction world that was just around the corner. You no longer wanted a record player, you wanted a High Fidelity stereo system or Hi-Fi. Forrest J. Ackerman made the connection and coined the word “sci-fi” and it stuck, although some fans of the genre greatly dislike it.

Both of those terms stand for something, but the modern equivalent, “wifi” does not. It’s simply a catchy term that follows the pattern. Wifi does not stand for “Wireless Fidelity.” That doesn’t even make sense. It’s simply the name of the thing that follows in the footsteps of HiFis, Sci-Fi, and beeping satellites.

Welcome to the future.

Living In The Future, Keeping It In Your Pocket by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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