Saturday, October 15, 2016

More, More, More

Mike was having nothing but trouble with his internet connection. It was slow, then it didn't work, then it did. He called his cable company numerous times, asking for assistance, but to no real avail. Finally, he got to one customer service rep who asked him about his modem. While it was an older model and seemed to worked fine, the guy suggested he swap it out for a new one. After all, a few advances had happened since it was originally installed, like running water, air travel and Pop Tarts.

So Mike went and picked up an updated version, an industrial looking box festooned with lights and connections. He took it home and hooked it up, but his service still wasn't singing. So he arranged a service appointment for a tech to come to his apartment and optimize it. At the appointed hour he showed up, and poked and prodded. Finally, he announced he was done, and that not only did Mike have a solid connection, but now he had 5G.

Five G. Not to be confused with 5G's, a brand of marijuana from Rebel Grown, or the 5G trombone mouthpiece from Bach instruments, or the 5G's that Edward G. Robinson demanded in "Key Largo," 5G is the latest standard for wireless communication. Sure, you may have a phone that does 4G, but this? Well, this is one more than that: it has five G's! And more G's are better than less G's, right?

At least that's how we've been conditioned. There's hardly a thing out there that we haven't added a one, ten or hundred to show it's more advanced. After all, if two is good, three has to be better. And four must blow that away. For companies, it's an easy shorthand to indicate their next, more whiz-bang product without going into excruciating detail. We know that the Boeing 787 has just got to be better than the 777 model. The iPhone 7 must be a quantum leap over the 6. And now that Supergirl and The Legends of Tomorrow have joined Flash and the Arrow, we just know that Superhero Fight Club 2.0 will be soooo much better than the initial version.

That said, while it may be better, you might not be able to really tell. There is no doubt that we've made impressive technological leaps in many arenas. But eventually you come to a place where it doesn't really make a whole lot of difference to most of us. After all, anyone can tell the difference between driving 20 miles per hour and 80. But between 80 and 90? At that point fast is fast, unless you're in the pole position at Daytona.

Look at music, or rather, listen to it. When we first started to transition from records and tapes to electronic files, you could hear the digital conversion. But then they figured out the whole MP3 thing, and now only those with truly discerning ears and expensive headphones can tell the difference between a sample rate of 160 and 190. And if that means nothing to you, here's a real world example. Listen to music as you usually do, downloaded to your phone with $20 earbuds while riding on the train. In that environment, the difference between a 99 cent song from iTunes and a $10 archival version of the same is academic at best, pretentious at worse.  

So the fact that Mike has more G's than you may not really matter. It's not that there's no difference; it's just that we mere mortals might not be able to appreciate it. If I can download a file in seconds, another fraction or two might not really make a difference. Or as the tag line went from a long ago Saturday Night Live commercial parody showing why a triple-bladed razor was better than the double-bladed variety, well, it's because you'll believe anything.  

Still, I get that it's a progression, a continuum. And while 5G might not be much different from 4G, 8G will be a lot different from 1G. Then again, as long as your Netflix stream is clean, what do you care that it buffers more bits than it used to? Put another way, it's all somewhat immaterial for most of us because, as the great science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke famously noted, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.


Marc Wollin of Bedford doesn't know if he really needs Windows 11. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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