Any fact, anywhere

This weekend, I broke down and bought an iPhone.

Finally upgrading from my 3 1/2-year-old phone turned out to be a bigger shock than I had imagined.

I enjoy the modern perks, of course: clean interface, texting with a full keyboard, squeezing an MP3 player and phone into the same device. But, come on, any $300 phone should come with those features nowadays.

The aspect that really blew me away: mobile Internet access. Plenty of today’s smartphones offer on-the-go web access – I just didn’t realize how big a deal it was.

In only a few days, the feature has completely retooled the way I seek answers. When I hang out with friends, our conversations inevitably hit questions that none of us can answer. These don’t have to be deep thoughts – who was that actor? how do you pronounce edamame? where does ‘baby corn’ come from? Yet, in the past, these mysteries always either led to me cautiously accepting my buddy’s “well, I heard that” explanation or to the discussion-stopping response that “I’ll Google it when I get home.”

That was often the end of it. I’d forget to research the topic, or worse, my friend’s harebrained explanation would settle in my mind as verified truth.

But as of this weekend, desktops are no longer my only key to the Web. Now, answers lie in my pocket.

Without quite realizing it, I and millions of iPhone customers (and Samsung Instinct subscribers last month, and BlackBerry users before us) joined the most recent push toward fulfilling the Internet’s overarching mission. Knowledge on demand. Any fact, anywhere.

As a corollary, this mobile-web evolution reinforces the idea that facts don’t need to be memorized. Why learn multiplication tables if you have a calculator? Why remember phone numbers when you have a digital contacts list? Why retain dates if you have Wikipedia?

This erosion is both good and bad. Recalling facts is not as important as analyzing them, but spending enough time with something that you memorize – and then internalizing it – can lead to greater understanding and meaning.

The movement will only continue. Google’s upcoming Android project will pave the way for dozens of new, web-enabled phones. And future smartphone models will tempt customers away from their old bland ones – like Apple did for me.

For now, I've got a lot more playing around to do on my iPhone.

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