Off-Ramp

Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Three ways the iPhone is a time machine to the past

The KPCC News team was recently assigned iPhones and I guardedly switched over from my trusty Blackberry. It makes sense because the iPhones can not only take pretty good pictures and video, but can also be used as a backup recorder with pretty high fidelity. So it’s a leap into the future. But not entirely. Two of my favorite iPhone apps actually turn the thing into a time machine to the past.

I’ve already blogged about the Hipstamatic app, which changes your pristine digital photos, with their deep focus and high detail, to leaky old Polaroids and Brownies.


I’ve been pondering why I like this so much, and I think it has to do with simplifying. There’s too much detail in a digital photo, too much distraction. The crappy old cameras only looked at one thing at a time, and rendered that one thing in a sort of Impressionistic way, engaging your mind more, or at least in a different way.

The other piece of the time machine is Stanza, a book reading app with access to Project Gutenberg, which – believe it or not – is not a tribute to the actor. (Quick: in which movie did Steve act alongside James Mason, Gregory Peck, and Laurence Olivier?) Project Gutenberg is currently about 25,000 free online books, and since books generally need to be old to be in the Public Domain, we’re talking old books – like all of Conan Doyle’s works, or Ford Madox Ford’s “The Fifth Queen,” about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, and yet another wife:

“His voice was playful and full; his back was bent supply. His face lit up with a debonair and pleasant smile. The lady’s eyes turned upon the girl, forbidding and suspicious; she remained motionless, even her lips did not move. Cromwell said that this was a Katharine of the Howards, and one fit to aid her Ladyship and Magister Udal with their erudite commentary of Plautus his works.”

What fate awaits the Lord Privy Seal? What of Katharine and her red-bearded cousin? And will Udal suffer at the hands of another cuckold? I can’t wait to find out. And if I get bored or bogged down, zap, it’s gone. I don’t know that I prefer reading on the small screen, but I certainly prefer trying out books this way, and there is no more room for books at the house.

One more thing: the iPhone’s keyboard is a time machine, too. No “delete” button. I’m sure this is a deliberate tribute to the days before the “delete” button made its way onto all PC keyboards and made typing so much easier … and not Apple’s stubborn iconoclastic insensitivity to my needs as a writer. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Jobs.

Anyway, feel free to rant about this below in the comments section.

(Check out John's weekly show Off-Ramp.)

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