Of Fathers and Smartphones

My dad fell in love with Angry Birds this past weekend. See, until now, he has been fervently anti-smartphone. For my Dad the best phone is one that can make and receive calls, and that is it. A year or so ago he discovered text messaging, but only uses it sparingly. My dad is not a technophobe though. He owns a very successful IT company that specializes in server and network administration, disaster recovery, and a bit of desktop support. He knows his way around a PC and a server, and has many a certification. He is also a digital camera buff, and in his free time likes to fix up old pictures, restoring bad color, removing scratches, and making the old new again.

And yet for him, computers are a thing to do work, and cell phones are devices to make phone calls. My parents find the current crop of smartphones fascinating, but rather annoying. My mother was bemoaning the anti-social aspect of the phones, how everyone is constantly looking at their phones, sending texts, checking e-mail, and not paying attention to the people in the room with them. They wonder why we all need this constant connection, and constant entertainment. Do we really get so bored on the 3 minute bus ride that we need to play a game? Is sitting in a cafe without music in your ears so intolerable? Recently though, my Dad has found himself in need of more constant access to his e-mail, in a more convenient form than his 3G-equipped Thinkpad. So, seeing that in the United States AT&T (oops, sorry, it’s now “at&t”) now offers the iPhone 3GS for a mere $49, my father reluctantly purchased one. I was somewhat horrified. I mean, an iPhone 3GS?? Doesn’t he know how much better the iPhone 4 is, with it’s faster processor, better video playback, improved front-facing videochat camera, and retina screen? But then I realized that all he wanted it for was to make phone calls and check e-mail, two functions the iPhone 3GS is admirably good at, and at the price of $49, a decent bargain, even compared to cheaper Android phones with their conflicting software versions and strange interfaces.

So, he bought an iPhone 3GS. He is reasonably happy with it. I discovered that he hasn’t set up an Apple account, hasn’t synced it with iTunes, hasn’t updated the software, hasn’t installed an app. He has no need or interest in this.

But this past weekend my parents came to visit us in France. In order to save them a large amount of money on phone calls, my wife loaned my Dad her very own iPhone 4, complete with it’s faster processor, better video playback, improved front-facing videochat camera, and retina screen. And, of course, with all of the apps my wife has installed on the phone. At first my Dad paid no attention to the various folders of apps and games, preferring to put his attention on the French countryside, and on a good book. But on the train from Paris to Grenoble, a bit of boredom finally got the best of him, and he clicked on an app called “Angry Birds.”

He was hooked.

I mean, completely hooked. He played it for the rest of the train ride, and in the hotel at night, and any time there was a free moment with nothing going on. He played many levels before discovering that the different birds have different skills, but that just made him more interested. He loves the sounds the birds and pigs make as the continue their duel for supremacy. He really appreciates the gameplay, and the animation. 59 years old, my Dad has discovered his first video game.

So, on his return to the States, he will likely install iTunes, sync his phone, set up an Apple account, and buy a copy of Angry Birds to play on his lowly iPhone 3GS. And I suspect that an iPhone 4 may not be too far in his future.

Welcome to the 21st century, Dad.

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