Most new technologies bore me. New ways to listen to music, shop, or access the news… I just can’t seem to care.
But some technologies manage to amaze me again and again. Technologies that work well and repeatedly exceed my expectations.
The Dictionary that comes with Apple computers is one. It’s a rare example of a truly simple technology that does exactly what you need it to without anything superfluous.
Whenever I use it I think of how lucky I am to have such a powerful tool. I think of the great writers and speakers of the past and how even they didn’t have such ready access to the language as I do. And if we moderns have better access to the building blocks of language, shouldn’t it mean we have the potential to surpass their constructions?
Except that our potential is simultaneously being checked by various threats to our intelligence which our predecessors didn’t face: all the useless and irrelevant information that bombards us, all the anemic philosophies and nihilistic worldviews that poison the mind.
Most Mac owners, it seems, don’t know they even have this dictionary tucked quietly away in their applications folder. Why it’s not included in the Dock by default when new owners open up those shiny Macs, I don’t know. It ought to be.
I’m to the point now where whenever I spot a mac user ignorantly trying to use one of those awful online dictionary sites I try to set them straight. I will walk across a coffee shop to tell them, to liberate them. Then it’s goodbye internet latency and stupefying advertisements; hello instantaneous and lucid edification.
A writer friend of mine who is still stuck with a PC has tried to find a similar dictionary but to no avail. So I dug up my ancient G3 iBook to be her dedicated Dictionary machine. Though too slow to run most programs, play video, or even surf today’s gluttonous* Internet, this loyal machine now sits next to her PC eagerly waiting to serve up a million denotations and many thousands of clarifying connotations on any of the 350,000 words that it keeps stored on its now miniscule hard disk drive. I suspect there are thousands of these machines languishing in the back of closets who could be contributing this service to the elevation of mankind.
One day my friend’s seven year old wanted to show me a video game he was playing. After two minutes of squinting at a dizzying array of cartoonish characters, flashing buttons, and other cryptic symbols I regained consciousness and tried to stem any further abuse. “Now can I show you my favorite game?” I said cheerily. Then, since he was on a Mac, I opened up Dictionary.
“What was that round, white house I saw in your game?”
“An igloo” he said. “It’s made of snow!”
“Great can you spell igloo?”
With Dictionary’s assistance, he found that he could. An igloo, it said, was a dome-shaped, snow-made house of the Eskimo.
“Click on Eskimo!,” I said, since every single word in Dictionary is clickable.
It told us what an Eskimo was and where they lived: Alaska, Greenland, Eastern Siberia, etc.
“Do you know where those places are? Let’s type them into Google Maps and see!”
Carefully he typed each location into the map, referring back to the dictionary every now and then, before hitting ‘enter’ and transporting us there. A few queries later we had even figured out how far we’d have to travel to visit these igloos.
“Learning is my favorite game,” I told him. And he looked up at me with intrigue, perhaps not entirely convinced but pondering.
* Gluttonous and glutinous are different. Thanks Dictionary.