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Note 82: What a time to be alive
First phone, flip side, (Good) Friday
[First things first: I forgot in sharing my essay last week to share the actual link, so here you go: What it’s been like for me on Medium]
This week was the 50th anniversary of the first telephone call ever made, on 3 April 1973.
The call was from a Motorola engineer named Marty Cooper to another engineer at a rival company to tell him they had created a handheld, portable phone. That rival company was Bell Labs, and their focus had been on making car phones (remember those?), while Motorola was convinced handheld phones were the future. Even so, it took Motorola another 11 years to make a version they could actually sell, the Dynatac 8000X—which as a BBC article notes, looks little like our modern phones.
That 1984 Dynatac was heavy, at just under 800g (4 times the weight of an iPhone 14), and all it let you do was make calls—forget texting or camera. Even so, you could talk for only 30 minutes before the battery died, and then you’d need 10 hours to recharge. And even if you simply left it lying around, you’d still have to charge it twice a day to keep it from dying. And for all that you’d have to pay £9,500 or $11,700 in today’s money.
We complain a lot about the prices of modern smartphones, but they’re incredibly cheap by comparison, especially when you consider how much more they’re capable of. Next year, it’ll be 40 years since that first cell phone—in that time, we’ve gone from that Dynatac to modern smartphones. With phones that disappear into a pocket, we take incredible photos, stay connected to loved ones anywhere in the world, share all kinds of documents and media, and even talk to AI assistants that are about to become incredibly powerful.
In 40 years, the things we grew up seeing in sci-fi stories are our everyday reality. What a time to be alive.
The flip side of adapting
Adapting to things is our superpower as humans. It’s what allows us to be able to live in any environment on this planet, and adapt to all kinds of change: physical, social and increasingly technological. It’s also how we get on with our day-to-day lives. We get used to things, we learn to live with them, we move on no matter what.
And that applies to both awful and amazing things.
That right there is the flip side of our adapting superpower: it also makes it easy for us to take things for granted. Sure, on one hand, we can’t seriously go “Wow!” at stuff all the time—no matter how breathtaking anything is, we do have to get on with life. And we forget how astounding things are and how lucky we are to get to live in the time we live in, while we go on stressing about all that’s changed or broken.
But two things can be true: the world can be broken in many ways, and we can still be able to reflect on how incredible it is, even in its broken state. This paradoxical perennial combination of brokenness and beauty is a key tension within Christianity as I’ve come to understand it, but one that probably resonates with anyone, Christian or not. And although it’s difficult to live in, it’s also necessary to live in it. To recognise the brokenness of things, while also being able to be grateful for and delight in the beauty that persists still.
It’s worth taking a step back now and then to look again at things we take for granted and say, “Wow.”
Another year around the sun
Speaking of things to be wowed about (for me, anyway), today marks another year of my life. I’m not exactly one for big birthday dos, but birthdays do offer an opportunity to reflect on life’s big questions, while also appreciating its little delights, like good coffee, good books, and good friends.
As it turns out, today also happens to coincide with Good Friday, the day Christians remember and reflect on the death of Christ. The meaning of “good”there is in the old sense of “holy” or “pious” (like in “good book”) but I like to think of it as also reflective of the combination of beauty and brokenness: the idea that an otherwise tragic event really represents a new beginning.
So today, among other things, I’m thinking about the things that are broken in my life and the things that are beautiful, but especially about the bits of beauty that have sprouted from brokenness. That’s worth being grateful for.
Where, for you, has beauty sprouted from brokenness? Please let me know in the chats (you’ll need to download the Substack app for that).