Redefining the meaning of progress on the internet

On the internet nothing is too dangerous, or too remote, to connect people. So why are my radio and telephone not working?

Yesterday I was one of millions of people watching live as Felix Baumgartner jumped higher and faster than anyone else before him. It was an awesome feat; absolutely gobsmacking.

Once the initial euphoria has worn off, however, will we still be as impressed? Some records from the 1960s still stand, and probably always will. Baumgartner didn’t quite achieve the longest freefall ever, and obviously he didn’t walk on the moon or even go into orbit. He clearly pushed new limits but in truth the jump may go down in history as something unrelated to space exploration or daredevil pursuits.

Baumgartner takes a dive (Photo via Guardian.co.uk)

In the age of the internet, progress is not as clear-cut as it used to be. Take my internet radio, for example. It can play thousands of stations from around the world, but the menu is complicated and the signal often cuts out when the wifi goes flaky (it’s unreliable near the kitchen wall). Any old FM radio has no such issues. You press a single button and there you go: instant pleasure, without interruption. The only downside: fewer stations. So which is better?

Old radio (Photo by Frisno, Flickr CC)

It’s the same story with internet-based telephony. Whatever happened to just picking up the phone I don’t know. At work we have rolled out MS Lync: a great tool that enables you to do make calls, arrange teleconferences, share your desktop, or instant message with colleagues. But to make a call you have to wear a headset. Unless you want to spend the whole day looking like a dick (wearing a Bluetooth piece) or being physically chained to your laptop (via headphones), answering the phone becomes a panicked fumble with audio equipment that may – or may not – attach to your ear before the call goes to voicemail.

Now that’s what I call a telephone (Photo by mightyohm, Flickr CC)

I really miss my old telephone and radio. At the same time I was absolutely thrilled to be watching Baumgartner’s jump live. So what is progress?

Progress is when I hear someone casually mention Baumgartner at the swimming pool and I spontaneously whip out a device from my trouser pocket that lets us witness him jumping, live and in high definition, from a space balloon nearly 40km above the Earth and some 5000 miles away. 10 people crowded around my iPhone and felt as inspired by the live connection as by the jump itself. We were one of those 8 million live viewers on YouTube  – as TV channels will also have noted with interest. This is a new frontier where nothing is too dangerous, or too remote, to connect people. And anyone can do it.

Well, almost anyone. Now I need Baumgartner to fix my radio and telephone.

2 thoughts on “Redefining the meaning of progress on the internet

  1. Sorry to disappoint you, but I watched Baumgartner via redbullstratos/live on my Galaxy Ace, and use Skype on same – only catch is they both drain batteries something fierce, so yes, we do have a way to go – and Lync works on Nokia WinPhone not Galaxy, and my IT is too anal to allow it on BB, so as you say it goes on swings and roundabouts

  2. I was obsessed with Felix’s jump, I had been following it for two years, even the year before. I own a piece of Felix’s balloon from Roswell. The man who trained him is a mate of mine – one of the best BASE jumpers in the world – Tracy Walker. He lives near me.

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