Payphones line a wall at the S.C. State Museum. When was the last time you saw a payphone?
Those relics of yesteryear still exist, and can be found in an upstairs exhibition space dedicated to technology we have willfully, and in some cases, reluctantly, discarded.
In the same room as the payphones there is an area set up like an office space, where a typewriter sits by a (handwritten!) memo and a dictaphone. The dictaphone does not talk back if you ask it a question.
Farther on, in a recreated living room, a 1980s TV – boxy, with turn dials – waits for orders from a case containing old remote controls.
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In a classroom area, a computer the size of a small microwave saves data on a floppy disk – something anyone born after 2000 associates with the “save” icon and nothing else.
The assemblage of old tech is part of a new exhibit called “App 4 That.” The exhibit, a play on Apple’s trademarked phrase “There’s an app for that,” opens Saturday, May 21.
It explores the increasingly breakneck pace of technological advancement. It is also a visual statement that nearly all of the innovations in the gallery can now be accomplished by a single device: Your smartphone.
“This exhibit will take a look at how apps have changed the way we live in many ways,” said Tom Falvey, director of education at the State Museum. “It’s about the different ways we communicate now and the span in which technology has evolved, and how that’s affected us. But we’re not getting into whether it’s good or bad.”
Either way, smartphones have become an essential part of our daily lives.
In 2015, Americans spent an average of 2.8 hours a day on their phones. They had 1.5 million apps to choose from Apple’s App Store. Worldwide, people downloaded 25 billion apps for iOs phones and 50 billion apps for Android phones.
“I really think there’s an app for everything,” said Brendan Lee, the lead app developer for the Columbia-based start-up 52inc. “I think it’s getting harder and harder to find a unique idea.”
In addition to serviceable apps that act as an atlas, bank, translator and weatherman, there are myriad apps with zany and bizarre functions.
There’s an app that stops you from drunk dialing your ex, an app that maps places you’ve pooped (really) and an app that tells you where you parked your car – in a pirate voice. There’s even an app whose sole purpose is to add a mustache to the user’s face (“Just to get the perfect look!”).
Mustaches aside, the capabilities of our smartphones, and technology in general, is astonishing.
Technology is developing and changing so fast. It’s scary in a way but exciting.
Mike Meyers, co-founder of Tradeversity
“Technology is developing and changing so fast. It’s scary in a way but exciting,” said Mike Meyers, a University of South Carolina graduate and co-founder of Tradeversity, a service-sharing app and website for university students. Tradeversity is headquartered in Columbia, because the tech landscape here is “extremely fruitful” to start-ups, Meyers said.
For one, the cost of living in Columbia is a fraction of that of Silicon Valley, New York City, Atlanta or Charlotte.
Meyers also benefitted from support from the university and the USC Columbia Technology Incubator, which gave him a year of free workspace after he won a pitch competition for Tradeversity in 2014.
For another reason, there is less competition in Columbia.
“It’s easy to get attention for what you’re doing,” local software developer Andrew Askins said. “By default, if you’re working on tech here, you’re already somewhat of a big fish in a small pond.”
When 52inc came to Columbia four years ago, the tech community was definitely not what it is now, Lee said. Today, the company’s space in the Vista is not far off the mark of what you might see at a big city startup: There are scooters and bikes ridden around the office by 20-and-30-somethings, a minimalist design scheme, and an office Corgi named Bear.
“You could say that Charlotte or Atlanta has more talent, but Columbia has its own niche,” Lee said. “There are people here really wanting to build awesome things.”
The next big thing?
The next thing would be to embed the phone in the body somehow.
Dr. August Grant, USC professor and technology futurist
As the “App 4 That” exhibit shows, however, something awesome will inevitably be replaced by something even more awesome.
Thomas Edison's 1877 phonograph was the first to reproduce recorded sound – awesome, right?
So were CDs, but they’re almost irrelevant now, to the point where Buzzfeed offered, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, a How-To on opening Adele’s “25.” (Step 1: Remove the ridiculously hard-to-get-off plastic wrapper.)
Of course, now everyone can stream music on their phone the instant it’s released by the artist.
So what’s next?
“Eventually the smartphone will go away and be replaced by something better,” said Dr. August “Augie” Grant, a journalism professor at USC and a technology futurist. In his research, Grant examines technologies and makes predictions on which ones might succeed or fail.
“The next thing would be to embed the phone in the body somehow,” he said. “It’s going to be with us and we’re going to be dependent on it.”
That certainly sounds a lot like M.T. Anderson’s “Feed,” the 2002 novel that imagined a world in which citizens have the internet inside their brains.
In the more recent future, Meyers predicts that Snapchat will emerge as the premiere social media marketing tool.
“I think it’s going to surpass Facebook,” he said.
As for the museum, public relations manager Jared Glover said he hopes visitors will be able to interact with the exhibit on their phones in some way once it opens.
The museum does not have an app.
“We’ve looked into it,” Glover said. “But we’re on Snapchat.”
If you go
“App 4 That”
When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday
Where: 301 Gervais St.
Cost: $6.95 for children 12 and under, $7.95 for seniors, $8.95 for adults
America’s 10 most popular apps of 2015
3. Facebook Messenger
4. Google Search
5. Google Play
6. Google Maps
9. Apple Music
10. Apple Maps
All about Columbia
A sampling of apps with Columbia and South Carolina services
Passport Parking: Pay for metered parking
Scootaway: Rent a scooter
Rave Guardian: USC campus safety
Catch the Comet: Bus routes
iClaim: File South Carolina unemployment claims
5-0 Radio: Listen to a local police scanner
Woozle: Real-time look at which bars are popular
Tradeversity: Craigslist for college students; co-founded by USC student
Satisfy Your Thirst Tour: Beverages in Columbia and around state