8-TRACKS TO IPHONES: HIS GADGET ADDICTION

On my way out of the mall, I passed a man sitting in the parking lot. His beard was long. His feet were calloused.

Anything I can do? I asked.

“Nah,” he said. “I give up.”

On life? On hope?

“On the iPhone.”

The iPhone?

“I’d like to wait in line for it,” he lamented. “I really would. I know it’s the newest, sleekest, most versatile mobile phone ever. I know it plays music, takes pictures, surfs the Net, plays videos, lets you talk for hours and fits in your pocket. I even heard it teaches your dog to poop on the newspaper. But …”

But?

“I’m just so tired.”

From what? I asked.

“From WHAT?” He laughed. “Oh, let’s see. Before this I stood in line for the Xbox 360. Before that, I stood in line for the newest PlayStation. Before that, it was the first high-def plasma. Before that, the first high-def receiver.

“Before that, the first iPod with video. Before that, the first iPod with 60 gig. Before that, the first iPod, period.

“Before that, TiVo. Before that, Replay. Before that, DVD-RW. Before that, DVD, period.

“Before that, it was a recordable CD player. Before that, it was a CD player at all. Before that, a cassette player with Dolby. …”

He paused. “I never understood that one.”

What would Gordon Gekko do?

As he spoke, I took closer notice. Around his neck were a nest of wires and earmuffs.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, “waited in line for these, too. Had to have the first Bose headphones. Had to have the first wraparound headphones. Had to have the first ear-bud headphones. And the first wireless headphones.”

Which do you use now? I asked.

“None,” he said, lifting the thick mass. “I can’t get them untangled.”

No wonder you’re tired, I said.

“You ain’t heard the half of it. It’s a gadget addiction. It never ends. I waited in line for the first BlackBerry. Before that, the first PalmPilot. Before that, the first calculator!

“I had the first mini-cell phone. I had the first cordless cell phone. You know that big honking phone Michael Douglas used in ‘Wall Street’?”

Uh-huh.

“Waited in line for that. Two hours.”

Wow, I said.

“I bet Michael Douglas didn’t have to do that.”

I bet not.

Seven ways to hear the Boss

“And don’t get me started on music. I mean, I had to have the latest Springsteen concert that just came out on Blu-ray Disc. Before that, I had to have it in high-def DVD. Before that, I had to own the first CD. Before that, the first cassette. Before that, the first album.

“I now have seven versions of the same record. And …”

He stuck out his weathered foot.

“I got the calluses to prove it.”

He sighed. “When I think of all the stuff I had to be first on the block with, it’s kind of pathetic. I mean, I had the first quadraphonic stereo. Now that’s laughable. I had the first 8-Track player; it’s a joke, too. I had the first universal remote. It’s like two feet long. My dog uses it instead of a bone.”

He sighed. “Just as well. I never did figure out how it worked.”

He put his head in his hands. Beneath his long hair he had Bluetooth devices on his ears. He had video cameras in his front pockets. He had all kinds of pagers and PDAs on his belt, each one smaller than the next.

Why do you do it? I asked. If you know it’s going to be out of date, why rush to get it?

“Because they fool you, don’t they?” he yelled. “They make you think it CAN’T get any smaller than this! It CAN’T get any faster than this! It CAN’T do any more than this! So I get it. And for 24 hours, I’m the coolest guy on my block. And then, next thing I know, the guy down the street gets one for $8.99.

“I give up. I can’t stand it anymore. I can’t stand anymore. The iPhone is here, and I’ll just be … a latecomer.”

He began to weep. I offered him a ride home. He thought for a minute, then nodded his head.

“That your car?” he sniffed.

Yes, I said. The Chrysler.

“With the new Hemi?” he asked.

Oh, boy.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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