The end of iPhone innocence

Friday is the official launch date for the iPhone. 

This date has made a great many people very, very happy. At least the ones who are eager to spend $499 for a device that allows you to be sitting on a reed mat in a Buddhist meditation center serenely focusing on your mindfulness of breath and contemplation of impermanence one moment, and explaining to your extremely honked-off boss why you chose to switch to a different contractor for breakroom coffee machine maintenance the next.

Well, good for them. As for me, my elan has been dampened. My joie is nowhere near as vivre-ey as it once was, and I find that someone has gone and installed a screen door on my submarine.

Why? Because I have only a few more hours of lording it all over people that I’ve already used an iPhone and they haven’t.

Damn.

Folks, lest you think that I’m just being a big arrogant jerk here, let me explain that you have no idea how terrific these past several months have been. I’ve been dining out on other people’s expense reports for so long now that I’m no longer entirely sure how much a sirloin with a side-salad costs any more. 

“Speak to us once more again of the touch interface,” someone seated to my left asks breathlessly, provoking urgent noises from the rest of the table. I gaze at the little sign above the bar in a meaningful way…the one advertising a take-home sampler of microbrews for $23.95.

I receive a circle of nods. “It was as though I was holding a movie prop, my friends,” I begin, miming the device in my hand as I’d done a thousand times before. “It was responsive, it was intuitive, it was liquid; my Spidey-Sense started tingling at the back of my neck. It’s a sensation I’ve rarely felt, a reaction that speaks clearly and emphatically to me that this technology is going to have an impact unseen since primitive man first struck flint to steel, or until the first of hundreds of millions of Segways first began to ply the streets and sidewalks of the world.”

I use my Movie Trailer Announcer voice for that last bit, for added oomph. I suspect that the dudes who got to horse around on the surface of the moon went through much the same thing when they got back. Why reach for your wallet when you’re carrying a dynamite story about driving a car and whacking a golf ball on a whole different planet?

I suppose I shouldn’t really complain. Life it tough all over, and here I’m not talking about the countless innocents all over the globe who are suffering unbearably, endlessly, and  needlessly. I’m talking once again about the astronauts. The commercialization of human spaceflight continues to make fantastic leaps forward, which just can’t be sitting well with the fewer than 500 men and women who’ve made it to and through Earth orbit. When they did it, spaceflight required enduring a brutal application and selection process followed by years of training, followed by a 1 in 50 chance that they’d be dead within eleven minutes of launch.

Thanks to Richard Branson and his buddies, soon the only requirements will be a family fortune and the ability to put on a pouty face and cry “But Ashley’s Sweet 16 party got to go to the South Pole. The South Pole, Daddy! If my party can’t top that, I can never show my face at school ever!”

I just imagine Jim Lovell, commander of the just-barely-not-doomed Apollo 13 mission, hearing about some morning-zoo radio shock-jock’s “Win A (name of explicit sex act) In Space” phone-in contest, and getting a tear in his eye that his can’t adequately explain to his grandchildren.

Well, it’s nice to have something in common with Apollo astronauts for a change. Because on June 29, the iPhone becomes an open-swim: everybody in the pool.

I refuse to pout. It’s beneath me (for the purposes of this column, anyway) and hell, I’ll still reap the benefits of the iPhone. There’s a reason why Mac faithful line up at Apple Stores to be among the first to buy the latest and greatest: Apple hardware has a hypnotic effect upon the general population that no so-called “Hypno-Specs” ordered from the back of a comic book (yes, I’m still bitter, even eleven months later) can match.

It’s a phenomenon that anyone who managed to get an iPod Nano or a Shuffle or any other mega-hyped Apple product on the first day of release. I almost know better than to use such a thing in public because it’ll be passed around the bar or the party or the movie theater acquiring dozens of different fingerprints in just twenty minutes’ time as I repeat the same impromptu review of the general features and user experience.

So the Big Win is that my new iPhone will make a hell of a murder weapon, provided I kill someone with it by Friday. The dizzying array of forensic evidence would probably convince the police to move on to simpler cases.

I’ve never interviewed an astronaut, but I’ve have a bunch of friends who work with them. The word — just one degree of separation from the horse’s mouth — is that at least on a physical level, spaceflight really, really sucks. During any mission that lasts beyond the capacity of the human bladder, the cabin of the spacecraft smells like the interior of a bus-station bathroom. Low to moderate nausea settles in shortly after you enter microgravity and it never truly goes away. You can’t get any really deep, satisfying sleep, so the fatigue level tends to mount as the days stretch onward.

And yet, space flight is a wonderful experience and none of them would trade those nine days for anything. There’s a certain responsibility to being among the First. Regardless of how eager someone is to hear the story, they bring preconceptions and they’re hoping that you’ll confirm them for you.

There are folks who irrationally want the iPhone to do to the phone industry what the iPod did to the portable digital music player industry. Some people are just as irrationally praying for it to become the Zune of its product category. I suppose it’s going to be up to those of us who are fortunate to lay our hands on it early to give an honest, earnest, and thoughtful opinion to the uninitiated, while maybe saving the stinky bus station stories for later.

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