Monday, January 2, 2012

Apparating, not Apps: My New Year’s Wish for a Transportation Revolution

When I was a kid, there were two ways to communicate from long distances: First, check the mailbox. Second, pick up the avocado-green, rotary dial telephone in the kitchen when it rang. (There weren’t answering machines, so you had to run to pick it up or miss the call.) The fancier families had extra-long cords that allowed teenagers to sit in the hall closest and have private conversations. No one in my social circle had a princess telephone in their bedroom, with a separate line, but I saw it on television (black and white, three channels).

So, that’s changed a little bit.

When I was a kid, there were four ways to travel long distances:  boat, train, car or airplane.

And that hasn’t changed at all.

Here is my New Year’s plea to the inventive geniuses of this world: We have enough apps for that, really. Could you possibly shift your focus from what we do with our thumbs all day, to how we get our physical selves from place to place?

Given the astonishing leaps we’ve made in communications, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a similar sea change in transportation. I take it for granted that I can talk to my daughter via Skype every morning in Beijing, and carry her flat little pixilated head out to the back yard to see last night’s snowfall. Is it too much to ask that I can manage to apparate at Beijing Middle School for teacher conferences, or that she can materialize herself into her sister’s Christmas program and sing along to "Kermit's Christmas"? I think not.

Someday, I want to be visiting New York's Natural History Museum with my granddaughter. First, we’ll see the Mountain of Useless Appliances, with tons of IBM Selectrics at the base, and a mass of CPUs tottering at the top. Then we’ll stop in front of the display of Ancient Air Travel. The diorama will depict the huddled masses on a flight to New York, crammed together in the fetid atmosphere, keeping their eyes downward as the Stew-Master bullies them like the newest recruits at Camp Lejeune. In the display, she is pushing her weapon/cart, selling the poor oppressed masses her exorbitantly priced “food.”

“Who are those people, Grandma?” my little darling will ask. I’ll want to pick her up for a better look, but since the average four-year-old will weigh 150 pounds in the future, given our current food consumption trajectory, I’ll just tell her stand on her tiptoes to get a better view of Grandma’s past. “Long ago, people used to travel in airplanes,” I’ll tell her. “They were great for getting from place to place in a very long, usually incredibly delayed amount of time, except that they were expensive, smelly, germ-ridden tubes of broken dreams.”

“Gee, Grandma,” she’ll lisp adorably as she places her enormous, fat-laden hand in mind. “You are so old. And I’m really hungry again. Can I apparate us to McDonald’s for another TripleMac before lunch?”  “You bet, honey,” I’ll say, and she’ll press a few buttons on her personal keypad with her gigantic, extenuated thumbs, and get us back to Minneapolis in a jiffy.

Game on, boys:  All you Jasons and Channings and Jakes and Elis out there:  Put down COD and start designing me some modern-day, Jetson-level Transpo, stat. I’ve got a date with my granddaughter in 20 years, and I don’t want to be late.

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