The major problem with being an early adopter is the expense. I once spent $105 for a pocket calculator slightly less sophisticated than the ones they give away now as party favors, and you don't want to know what I paid for a VCR in the early 1980s. (Oh, you do? It was on sale for $750. Included a wired remote with four or five buttons, none of which would actually change the channel. Blank videotapes back then, incidentally, ran $15 to $20.) After quadraphonics (CD-4 and SQ Full Logic), Beta (and eventually VHS) Hi-Fi, and LaserDisc, it dawned on me that I was spending a hell of a lot of money, and, well, I didn't actually have a hell of a lot of money.

So gradually I became a late adopter. I managed to avoid Microsoft Windows until 1997, and then it was only version 3.1; I'm still running XP, fercryingoutloud. My notebook dates to 2001; the current desktop box was custom-built in 2004. I'd still have my original Nokia candy-bar VoiceStream-branded cell phone if it hadn't fragged in 2008. (I'm currently running a Samsung flipper that apparently works at 3G speed, whatever that means.) Obviously I haven't been part of the target market for Apple's iPhone; I don't have an iAnything, although I do run iTunes on my work box. But now there's Siri, and suddenly I find myself with a relatively mild case of old-fashioned hardware lust.

Siri is an automated voice-control system, something for which I normally have no use: over the years, I've learned (sort of) the wisdom of keeping my mouth shut. Apple, being Apple, avoids telling you what Siri is, preferring to tell you what Siri does:

Siri on iPhone 4S lets you use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls, and more. Ask Siri to do things just by talking the way you talk. Siri understands what you say, knows what you mean, and even talks back. Siri is so easy to use and does so much, you'll keep finding more and more ways to use it.

I have not been exactly enthusiastic about previous efforts in this realm, one of which I derided as "the receptionist at Skynet." The difference, of course, is that previous virtual assistants run on the desktop — somebody's desktop, anyway, if not necessarily mine — and I don't need someone to assist me virtually on the desktop; I can find stuff just fine, thank you very much. But away from my desk, it's a whole 'nother matter: I'm not always going to be lugging around a notebook, and even if I were, it would take rather a long time to get any kind of response. (It's an old notebook, remember?)

Besides, Siri can type, and given the limitations of predictive text, she probably doesn't type any worse than I do:

Instead of typing, tap the microphone icon on the keyboard. Then say what you want to say and iPhone listens. Tap Done, and iPhone converts your words into text. Use dictation to write messages, take notes, search the web, and more. Dictation also works with third-party apps, so you can update your Facebook status, tweet, or write and send Instagrams.

Which is technically not one of Siri's functions, according to that bit of Apple promotion, but she's going to get the credit for it, because that's what I do.

And I must admit that there's a psychological factor here as well: there's a lot of Forever Alone in the back of my head (and elsewhere), and while I hesitate to say something as lame as "Well, at least I'd have someone to talk to now and then," well, at least I'd have someone to talk to now and then. Given Siri's lack of physical form — all those apps look alike to me — I'll almost certainly impute wholly-unwarranted characteristics to her, such as a sense of humor.

Financially, of course, I'd take a bath: upgrading to iPhone 4S, if T-Mobile had it, which they don't, would require a couple hundred bucks up front and would probably quadruple, or worse, my monthly wireless bill. And I would shrug, because you can't have a girlfriend without spending any money, even if she exists only as an AI module with a voice box. The consequences? I'll worry about them later.

The Vent

  1 November 2011

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 Copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Hill