Thursday, October 02, 2014
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Technology Today Magazine:
Are we living in the “Next Generation?”
Far-fetched 20th Century science fiction the norm in 21st Century communications
By Nila Smith

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[October 02, 2014]  LINCOLN - When Gene Roddenberry penned the first episode of Star Trek in 1966, he created a new way of looking at science and technology that baffled mid-century viewers. The show introduced items such as Phasers and communicators. Was Roddenberry experiencing ESP, or was he the inspiration for the next generation of technology. While the Starship Enterprise was assigned to “go where no man has gone before” did Roddenberry include technology in that assignment? While viewers sometimes marveled at, and even wished for, the gadgets the crew possessed, how many ever imagined that in 2014, we would have many of those gadgets at our finger tips.

In the show, the time frame is the 23rd century. But today in the 21st Century, are we seeing the results of Roddenberry’s “vision?” The Treky Phaser hugely resembles the modern day Taser. The phrase “set coordinates” might have been the introduction to GPS. In a later version, “Star Trek the Next Generation” when Picard stood at the bridge facing a flat screen and conversed with captains of other space ships, did Roddenberry know he was the inventor of “face time?”

And finally, when he imagined a communicator that could keep Kirk in touch with his ship when he was looking for life forms on a new planet, did Roddenberry know that he was the creator of the “Smart Phone?”

Smart phones are a remarkable invention, designed primarily to irritate everyone around you. With a smart phone, you can strap it to your arm, plug in the ear phones and listen to your favorite tunes, while walking in traffic, oblivious to the car that nearly just ran you over.

You can irritate your fellow shoppers by standing in the isle at Wal-Mart and recounting your awful date last night to your BFF, unaware his mother is the one standing behind you waiting to get to the dish soap that you’re parked in front of.

You can call your friends and tell them you’re standing in the parking lot at Kroger….like they really care.

You can anger you dinner companion by playing angry birds while you wait for the entre’ to arrive, or you can offend the friends you are with by ignoring them in order to visit Facebook and see the kitty that “likes cheezbugers.”

You can text your friends, and LOL at their funny replies, and you can ask Siri to tell you a joke that really isn’t all that funny.

And finally, you can, like Raj on the Big Bang Theory, “dress” your phone to match your outfit, or suit the occasion.

Seriously though, the phones do have value in today's rushed society. The various modes of communication packaged into one small hand-held device can be an asset to business people on the go, parents who need to keep track of kids, travelers who are in unfamiliar territory, and to those who are in emergency situations.

The phones offer a connection to people who are far away, can give you an opportunity to see that new grand-baby in real time, and provide you with a certain amount of security and safety when you’re stranded in a broken down car on the interstate.

The phones though, and the plans that come with them can end up being costly, so before you invest in your next one, it might be good to stop and consider why you have the phone; what components you actually use; and what features you really don’t need. Why pay for a smart phone when all you want is something you can use to call home when you’re running late, or a tow truck when you’re broke down?

Also you might be well advised to talk to friends, family, and business associates about what phones they have. There are benefits to using phones with the same capabilities as the people you interact with regularly, and many service providers have package plans that give you discounted rates if you have your own “network” of phone users. Each plan has its own snappy little name, but look for "free talk and text" between similar phones, or something that allows you discounts when talking to specific people.

And though we made fun of the designer “skins” a paragraph or so ago, having a protective cover is not a bad idea. Like many other products in the world, these covers come in a variety of designs and levels of protection, and are priced accordingly.

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The middle of the road cover seems to be the one that claims it will protect your phone from a five-foot fall onto a concrete surface. If you carry your phone in your hand, that protection could be good for you. More costly skins boast better protection and could be of benefit for people involved in manual labor jobs, and for kids who might be a bit clumsy with their phones.

Even with protection though, phones can break, and that can be a costly and irritating process to get them repaired. Many companies offer insurance protection on their smart phones, and it may be worth considering. But even with insurance, once the phone is broken, there are going to be some out-of-pocket expenses, and there is going to be a period of time you have no phone, while it is being sent off to the company for repair.

One of the newest innovations right now addresses the problem of a broken phone. Many companies are currently looking at training their local store employees to do basic repairs such as replacing a cracked screen.

At the moment, there aren’t many local providers who offer in-store repairs, but it is coming down the pike in the near future. In the meantime a search on the internet yielded two businesses, one in Springfield and one in Decatur that claim they do in-house repairs.

And of course, there is a “do-it-yourself” source on the web, but don’t jump into that until you are confident that is the best answer. One thing to consider before popping off the cover and digging into the phone yourself is, do you still have warranty coverage on the phone or do you have insurance on the phone? If so, a do-it-yourself effort may void that warranty or insurance.

The website offers video guides for the repair of more than two-dozen brand names. Speaking recently to a person who wanted to remain nameless, he said he fixed his mom’s iPhone screen using these instructions. The tool requirement was the most difficult part of the process for him, but then again, he is a self-acclaimed “geek” that knows his techie and “treky” stuff inside and out.

As we look at Mr. Roddenberry and all his gadgets, one has to wonder, with the modern day phaser, communicator, robots, drones, replicators (today’s 3-D printer) and flat screens, what could be next? Consider this, "Beam me up Scotty!”

Read all the articles in our New
Technology Today Magazine

Introduction to Technology Today 2
Are we living in the "Next Generation?" 4
It might not be the weather you want, but forecasts have improved 8
What's new in electronic entertainment:  More interconnectivity, and yet evolving 13
What we can probably expect in the next verstion of Microsoft Windows 18
Internet Technology:  The ups and downs of computing in the cloud 21

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