Finding My Way and the Smell of e-Ink: The Technology I Didn't Know I Needed

It’s a cool December day in New York City, and Grace and I are lost. She’s a new NYC resident, I’m a hopeless country girl, and we have been fully flummoxed in our search for frozen hot chocolate. In our over-confidence, we set out from Brooklyn to find Serendipity without bothering to write down the address. Grace texts a friend of hers as we wander up and down the same streets in the general vicinity of our goal, but no help comes. Finally, in an act of desperation, I call Trey and have him look the address up for us. “This is why you need a smartphone,” he says to me, not for the first time. I explain to him that this isn’t usually an issue as normally I’m traveling with him and just use his. Despite his frustration with my resistance to new technology, he finds the address for us and we eventually make it to our goal.

In the history of my relationship with Trey, there has been a recurring theme of him getting psyched about new technology and me resisting its adoption. It’s not that I don’t like technology, more that I don’t like change and I tend to cling fiercely to the familiar. We’ve had the “look at this cool thing” “no, it costs money and I don’t need it” conversation about a wide variety of technology. Smartphones, e-readers, even texting; I’m always a hold-out. But along with my repeating resistance, there is an ongoing trend of him flatly ignoring me, buying the technology anyway, and changing my mind.

Probably the best example of this was my birthday in 2010 when Trey conspired with my parents to get me (inflict on me?) both an iPhone 4 and a 2nd generation Kindle with 3G. As a person who had repeatedly insisted that all I needed a phone to do was make and receive calls as well as a person with a nearly religious reverence for books, I was experiencing technology overload.

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Flash forward to the year 2012, and although I wouldn’t go so far as to say I can’t imagine my life without these devices, they certainly make things better. I’m a high school teacher, and having a smartphone comes in handy in many aspects of my job. As a special education teacher, I sometimes feel like about 80% of my job is sitting in meetings. My iPhone is loaded with apps to help me remember said meetings as well as all the tasks I need to accomplish prior to them. Probably the place where the iPhone shines brightest in my job is when it comes to motivating and entertaining students. Twice a week, I take my class out into the community to practice daily living skills and vocational skills. Inevitably, I will have several students ask to borrow my phone to play Fruit Ninja or Temple Run on the bus ride (in fact, student recommendations are the reason I downloaded those games in the first place). One day when the iPhone really won was when we were at a job site and one of my students was being particularly surly and slow about his work (teenagers, go figure). I know he loves dancing, so I whipped out my phone, cued up Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” on my YouTube app, and before you know it he was grinning and working at full pace. Even outside of work, I enjoy the instant access to entertainment and information. I’m in the movie theater with the IMDb app, at the grocery store with the Epicurious app, and yes, even driving down the road with the somewhat dubious Apple Maps app. I’m absolutely a smartphone convert.

Possibly more surprising than my attachment to my iPhone is how much I love my Kindle. When I say that I have a nearly religious reverence for books, I do not exaggerate. I first worked in a library when I was in fifth grade and have worked in two others since. I do not write in books. When I’m reading, I have an uncanny ability to tune out the world. When e-readers were first rising to popularity, I was firmly in the opposition’s camp. I never went so far as to believe that e-readers would be the death of paper-and-ink books, but I certainly didn’t want one. I firmly stated that I liked the smell and feel of a physical book and that I enjoyed collecting them. Ironically, it was a book that made me fall for the Kindle, specifically, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. At the time that I received my Kindle, we were living in Fairfax, Virginia and I was commuting into Washington, D.C. via public transportation. If you have read Pillars of the Earth, you know that is engaging, engrossing, and also enormous. The idea that I could carry a 1008-page book which, according to amazon.com, weighs in at 14.9 ounces on a device that weighs 10.2 ounces was incredibly appealing. I also loved that if I finished a book during my commute I could get a new one immediately. The Kindle has certainly not removed my love of books and small, independent bookstores will always have my heart and my business, but the convenience of the Kindle supports my love of reading rather than hindering, and makes the device my constant travel companion.

The Kindle and iPhone - Two devices that make the world a better place   Credit - Trey Comstock (Tech's Last Call)

The Kindle and iPhone - Two devices that make the world a better place

Credit - Trey Comstock (Tech's Last Call)

For me, change is hard; I like traditions and the familiar. But even though it may take some time, I’m able to recognize when something new is going to make my life better or at least more convenient. My smartphone and my e-reader have now joined the ranks of the constant in my life. There is no question that, despite my initial stubborn resistance, they are here to stay. The real question is what device I think I don’t need will be the next to win my heart.