Obsolete Information

For no particular reason at all, today I found myself thinking about the future. Specifically, about phone numbers.

I was looking at my daughter and imagining her several years hence, when she gets her first iPhone (or whatever gadget has replaced it by then). And I thought about how the persistence of memory in our gadgets and the rudimentary artificial intelligences that power them have made the knowing of certain bits of information an obsolete practice.

If you’re my age or older (do they get older???), then you probably still remember a few key phone numbers. I remember my mother’s (it hasn’t changed in more than thirty years) and — for some reason — the very first phone number I ever had. But I can’t remember my wife’s for the life of me, mainly because I never had to learn it. I entered it into my address book once and it populated across all of my devices. When I need to call her, I tap her name or tell Siri.

The same is true of email addresses. And Twitter handles. We know people by their names and our gadgets remember the rest for us.

“We know all of this, Barry,” you’re saying, rolling your eyes at my early onset senility. But, no — I told you that so that I could tell you this:

Right now, if you meet someone and want their contact information, you request it and they give it to you. You then dutifully enter it into a database1 and never think about it again.

This seems like an outrageously simple procedure, but why shouldn’t it be simpler?

Again, envisioning the future my daughter will live in: She’s ten years old and has just received her Apple Necklace, a stylish choker that — through Siri 10.0 — can respond to her subvocal commands and communicate to her and her alone via signals that travel up her neck and along her jawbone to vibrate her eardrums. There’s no interface — she doesn’t need an interface. She talks to it, and it responds.

She wants to be able to call or text her grandmother or send photos from the Bluetooth-linked eyepiece she’s getting for her birthday, so she needs to enter Gramma’s contact info.

Or does she?

Because the next time she’s in proximity to my mother, she can just tell Siri, “That’s my Gramma.” And Siri will link up with my mom’s gadgets and the two will quickly hand off information. In the blink of an eye, my daughter’s Necklace creates a contact — Gramma — and populates it with all of the contact info in my mom’s gadget.

When my daughter wants to talk or text or otherwise communicate with her grandmother, all she does is tell Siri, “Call Gramma” or “Tell Gramma I can’t wait to see her.”

The distinction between phone call and text and email is an artificial one that exists mostly because of the different evolutions of the technologies. As time and technology progress, though, there’s no need to think, “I want to contact Person X. What’s the best way to do that?” Let the tech handle it. The tech will figure out the best way to contact Person X at that particular time and just take it from there. And, furthermore, let the tech set up the contact info in the first place. It’s not a question of “In the future, will you remember anyone’s phone number?”

It’s more like, “In the future, will you ever know anyone’s phone number in the first place?”


  1. You may not think of it as a database, but that’s exactly what your contacts list is.

“Subcompact Publishing” — Go Read It

“The publishing ecosystem is now primed for complete disruption.”

That’s the most important sentence in “Subcompact Publishing” by Craig Mod, but I urge you to read the entire article if you are at all interested in publishing and its future.

I’ve been a subscriber to Marco Arment’s The Magazine since it first dropped a month or so ago. And while not every article has been to my tastes, it’s still worth the subscription fee. Hell, just being able to watch the still-gestating future of publishing live is worth it.

Mod’s piece does an excellent job of distilling lessons and warnings about the future of publishing into a single (long, I admit) article. Some of what he says has been bandied about for years, but now we have an actual, living example of what digital can be — beyond simply “Take that stuff on paper and make it pixels. And animate something, while you’re at it.”

I would love to execute an Arment-like structure for fiction. Something you download once as a “container” type of app, then subscribe to get chapters of a novel or a series of short stories. I would do that in a heartbeat. Sadly, I lack programming skills. (If any iOS developers out there would like to jump in on this, let me know!)

If you have an iPhone, an iPad, or an iPod touch, I urge you to download The Magazine (iTunes link). You get a free trial, so there’s no risk. If you work in publishing, I’m begging you to download it. Try it out. Is it perfect? Oh, hells, no! But it’s an important evolutionary punctuation mark, a huge step in a new and — I believe — correct direction.