Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Stopped at the Ding Hao Plaza (electronic market) over in Zhongguancun today to have my contact there check a short in a backup drive I had purchased from him a few months ago. Whenever you walk into one of those electronic markets, sales people come running out of the booths trying to get you to buy something. I've learned to smile and keep going. If you stop to to talk, it could end up taking a long time, because there are lots of places, and they all want your business. When I was on my way out, a particularly outgoing lady at one of these places came running out and asked me if I wanted to look at a camera. I pulled my camera out of my pocket. Didn't discourage her. She pointed to their laptop selection. I pointed to my laptop slung over my shoulder. Then, to head her off, I also showed her my cell phone. She thought for a minute. "iPod!" I told her that I had an electronic dictionary that can play .mp3 files. Not discouraged in the least, she then tried to sell me an .mp4 player. I told her that my electronic dictionary could also play .mp4 files. Truth is, I don't use that feature much, because even though it's kinda handy, it sucks so much juice from the battery. The only .mp4 I watch regularly anyway is a program called, "McLaughlin Group," which I download from their web site, and I prefer to watch that on my laptop.

Funny how gadgets that would have seemed wildly sensational only a few years ago now seem like necessities one cannot live without. If I try to identify what is the primary benefit of each of those systems, I would say that the one thing they all give me is time. Everyone of them in one way or another makes my life more time efficient. When I began to learn Chinese, I used the radical chart in my character dictionary to look up characters. When I first started, it could easily take me 30 minutes to look up a character. After I had done it a lot, I got better at it, and could sometimes find a character in five or ten minutes. With my electronic dictionary, I write a character on the screen with a stylus, and the pinyin and definition shows up. Really speeds up the learning process.

When I was in college, it used to take me about a half-hour to type a page of text. And lots and lots of correction fluid. Needless to say, it goes a lot faster with a computer, and that is without mentioning the ease of making multiple copies. And editing. I mean, moving blocks of text around, restructuring paragraphs, and such. Much, much simpler now. And no need to write out an original draft in long hand. I always had a fountain pen in college, because I used to get writer's cramp so bad if I used a ball point pen.

The ability to listen to or watch news and information programs selectively, without having to build my life around them saves untold hours of time. Sitting in front of the tube for 30 minutes every night to watch the news is just not time efficient. I never do that anymore, except that I do have Dialogue on when I am taking a shower in the morning. Otherwise, I always listen to news programs on my laptop while I am doing my other work.

A digital camera may not be a time saver for everyone, because you do tend to take more pictures when there is no cost to developing them. But for me, it really does save time. It is amusing to me how much trouble it used to take just to get a dozen or so pictures developed. I rarely make paper copies of pictures, so for me, digitalization is really a life saver. It does take a few minutes to pull the jpegs into Photoshop and lighten them up so I can post them online (from 2-3 MB down to under 100 k), but the time is nothing compared to the time it took to deal with photo albums.

The database in my pocket phone has 160 phone numbers stored in it. Cell phone numbers in China are eleven digits long; you would never think of memorizing them, except your own, because you get asked for it all the time. But I don't have to spend any time looking them up, either. Busy Chinese professionals are big on text messages. There is no voicemail in China. At first I thought this was a bit cumbersome, but it really does have some distinct advantages. You can send and receive messages when you are in a meeting without disturbing anybody.

I haven't mentioned email and instant messaging. The ability to carry on several real-time conversations at a time, and then pull people together into one conversation saves a lot of trouble. In today's China, all of the conveniences I mentioned are taken for granted. It's much different in the countryside, of course. People don't use email, and digital cameras are a curiosity. If you think about it, a digital camera isn't worth much if you don't have a computer. But the countryside is changing too, as stuff gets cheaper, and access to broadband Internet pushes farther out into the hinterland.

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