The Analog Geek

Bob carries his cell phone in a baggy. I don't know the make or model, and it really doesn't matter. It's a Korean-made flip phone on Verizon Wireless. They are cheaper than a dime a dozen. With contract activation, you could actually make money buying a phone like that. He pulls a dirty, beat-up old sandwich bag out of some internal pocket from his coat (temperature breaks 100 degrees every day here in Dallas), and lets it unfurl. It looks like he's showing off a stash of drugs. He pulls the phone out of the baggy. Still, inside the bag I spot a flash of metal foil in a roll shape.

"What do you have there in the bag, Bob?"

"Life savers."

When I try to explain to my parents what I do for a living, I usually get questions like "How did you learn to do that?" They understand what I do, they just can't figure out why. Bob is my father-in-law. I don't even try to explain my job to him. It would be like explaining the difference between a helicopter and a fixed-wing airplane to a caveman. A lot of pointing and spinning around, but no real understanding.

Yet Bob is a geek, though perhaps not recognizable by the high technology enthusiasts who dominate that label. Bob has all the hallmarks of a geek without the gadgetry, or at least not the gadgetry that requires battery power.

At all times, Bob has on himself a watch, usually with an altimeter, a compass and as much rope as he can carry. Fifty feet is ideal, though a few twists would be helpful in a pinch. At the beach, he carries a bag full of compressed rope like a lifeguard might use. He's got a knife on him, and a lighter, though he's never been a smoker. It's just for fire.

In Bob's way, it's the same as when I carry a smartphone and any number of devices to go along with it. I even have a compass built into my phone. I enjoy being a bit overprepared for the situations I can imagine. For Bob, those situations involve 50 feet of rope and a compass. Now whose life seems more interesting?

The best part is, of course, that Bob has almost never had use for his rope, or his altimeter. He came to visit this past weekend. All of my son's grandparents live near Baltimore, but we live near Dallas. Bob came alone and brought his brand new video camera. He keeps slipping the features into conversations, awkwardly.

"So, we're thinking about taking you to a good barbecue shack we know nearby. It's a gas station, too, which, in Dallas, means it's usually a good place to eat."

"Do you think I'll need to use night vision there?"

"What? Bob, what are you talking about?"

"You know, night vision. My new Sony camcorder has a night vision mode. You can record in the dark."

He isn't bragging. He's trying to relate. He knows that I love these gadgets and gizmos. The night vision mode was probably a great selling point at Circuit City when they were trying to sell him this camera. I don't bother pointing out that he's never, ever had a need to use the night vision mode. I certainly don't point out that Paris Hilton completely ruined the green light effect of night vision videography, so I wouldn't film anything with night vision. Nothing.

Digital photography and digital video came too quickly for Bob. He was just figuring out how to work two VCR machines simultaneously. Not to dub tapes, but to record two programs at once. Bob bought a TiVo. He also bought about 2TB in eSATA external storage drives. He tapes everything he wants on TiVo, then never erases anything. He's halfway to the digital mindset. He understands that storage can be cheap, lightweight and compact. He doesn't understand that a key benefit to our digital future is that we don't need to all save our own copies of every show we like. We'll be able to download them later from a central cloud service. It's already happening now in a hodge podge way.

Bob tapes the History Channel obsessively. Over a wonderful barbecue dinner he chimes in to say:

"I want to tell you about a show I just watched on the History Channel. It was about a famous sculptor who has hundreds of works all over the country, but nobody recognizes his name."

I realize that, at best, I'm about to sit through a perfect recap of the History Channel. At worst . . . I need to change channels. I ask about his digital camera.

"Do you have a digital photo frame?" I tell him I do not, but I'm familiar with the concept.

"I need mine to stop erasing all the pictures I take so I can have them later."

I have no idea what he's talking about. He doesn't have any idea what he's talking about. It takes a long time, but I flesh out the problem thusly. He takes pictures on his digital camera. He used to shoot dozens of rolls of film on every vacation. Then he would get them all developed the moment he got home, 1-hour if possible. I thought digital would make a lot of sense for him.

He takes his SD card and puts it directly into his photo viewer. This is how he sees all his pictures. Even more strange, his photo viewer has its own internal memory, and it copies pics from the SD card, so you don't have to leave your card inserted forever. At some point in this process, the viewer erases all the images it copies. Fair enough. I'm sure this is a setting in a menu that he can toggle. I try to explain that to him, but he needs to have the device in front of him to understand.

"So, why don't you leave your photos on your computer instead."

"What do you mean?"

"Copy your image files from your camera to your computer. Then, even if the photo viewer erases your pics, you still have them on your computer."

"You can do that?" I assure him its possible. "How do I get the pictures from the card to the computer?" I ask how old his computer is. He's using a Gateway laptop, less than a year old. Part of me wasn't sure that Gateway still sold laptops in this country, but I believe him. In which case, he must have an SD card reader built in. Aside from some Apple laptops, there isn't a portable launched today without an SD card reader.

Bob is still skeptical. He can't believe the computer can understand the digital film image. It was all sold to him poorly. Here's your new camera. Here's your new film. Here's your new photo album. It's a logical progression. He doesn't see how the computer can fit into that chain at a number of points.

Bob is a geek. He can spend hours in a home depot the way I can kill time in a Fry's Electronics store. But while I'm decidedly digital, Bob is a geek of an analog age.