by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

LAS VEGAS — I have found the future. I am walking through it, carrying a plastic shopping bag.

I am at the Consumers Electronics Show, the first major trade show of the millennium. It is “cutting edge.” It is “hot, hot, hot.” It is every cell phone, computer chip, video, stereo and Internet device you can imagine.

I am lost.

“What is that?” I ask the person with a name tag that reads “Personal Relations/Consultant.”

“That?” he says, pointing to a long black box. “That is the future. It is called Instant Replay. It lets you freeze your favorite TV show if you get a phone call and pick up where you left off. No tape. No rewind. No nothing.”

“Do I need it?” I ask.

“Of course,” he says. “Think of the time you’ll save.”

I take his pamphlet. I move down the aisle. I come upon a booth with computer disks the size of Corn Chex.

“What are those?” I ask the “Human Relations Inquiry” person.

“Those?” she says. “Those are the future. They are MP3 cards, which hold 64 minutes of digital music that you can download from the Web. You can record your own cards, then play them on your MP3 player.”

“Do I need it?” I ask.

“Think of the time you’ll save,” she says.

I take the brochure.

My heads begins to hurt.

Time to check the market

“What’s that?” I ask a “Human Interface Specialist.”

“This?” he says, holding up a tiny cell phone that has a miniature TV screen.
“This is the future. You can download stock prices, send e-mail, catch your favorite shows — all while having a conversation with your mom!”

“Do I need it?” I ask.

“Think of all the time you’ll save,” he says.

I keep walking. I reach a massive TV display.

“Can I ask you …”

“What this is?” says the Vice President/Idiot Tolerance Division. “This is the most amazing TV ever. It’s high-definition, full-digital 38-inch tube, with all-in-one technology.”

“All in one?” I say.

“That’s right,” he says. “Your digital satellite, your cable, your antenna — all go directly into the TV. No more boxes. No more extra remotes. And, of course, you can access the Internet. So you can download stock quotes or send e-mail.”

“What if I don’t own stocks?”

“What?” he says.

“Never mind.”

He shrugs. “Think of the time you’ll save.”

Time to check the oven

I continue the maze of gadgets and gizmos, all beyond H.G. Wells’ imagination. There is an in-car voice recognition system that allows you to access the Internet without taking your hands off the wheel.

There is a two-way picture telephone. There is a device that lets you turn on the oven in your kitchen — from your office.

There is a wristwatch phone — which, of course, connects to the Internet. Doesn’t everything connect to the Internet?

“You can download stocks, send e-mails, even find out what time the movies are playing,” crows a VP and Director of Dealing With Plebiscites. “This wristwatch phone is the wave of the future.”

“Yes, but do I need it?”

“Ha!” he says. “Think of the time you’ll save!”

I am thinking of the time I’ll save. Here is what I’m thinking. I’m thinking the time I save freezing the TV while I answer the phone, I give back when I watch the rest of the TV show.

I’m thinking the time it takes to find music on the Web and load it onto an MP3 is longer than it takes to pack a cassette tape in my suitcase.

I’m thinking the time I save downloading stock prices onto a TV phone I just give back sitting around watching TV on the phone.

I’m thinking all these devices that let me turn on the oven, or talk to my car, or get digital directions, or send e-mail on my wristwatch — all take so much time to program, learn and manipulate, that I’ll end up saving no time at all.

In fact, I’ll have less time than before.

I finally come upon a booth I can handle. I tell the salesman I am interested in his product. He presses a button, waits, then hands it over.

“Cream and sugar?” he asks.

“No thanks,” I say. “Why waste the time?”


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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