iPhone magic

My iPhone has learned to do magic, and I think it is going to entirely change my experience here.

Back when it came out, I was really excited about the Word Lens app.  Using a smart phone’s built-in camera, the app will translate printed text in real-time on your phone screen.  You can point it at just about any text and have it pop up the translated text superimposed over the original image (it even does a decent job of mimicking the font).  Suddenly, you find you’re looking at English instead of whatever was printed in the first place.

It’s absolutely amazing, and, to my mind, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from magic.  (In fact, if it turns out that it IS magic, it would probably make more sense to me.)  It’s like having a translation dictionary in your pocket, except that you don’t have to spend the time looking up the word or phrase you’re looking for — the app does it for you.  It’s like (for fellow Doctor Who fans) having been a passenger on the TARDIS and having all text suddenly appear to be in English.  Jo compared it to having a babblefish (a la Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) for your eyes.  I think it’s basically magic.

When it first came out, it was only available in English/Spanish translation.  That was just about the same time we moved to Austria, so although I found it amazing, I didn’t have much use for it.  Since then, though (and unbeknownst to me), they added French and Italian translation.  And, just recently, German.

So now, in addition to actually learning German (which I really am trying to do) I have the ability to point my phone at text I don’t understand and suddenly “see” what it means.  Signs, menus and newspaper headlines are all going to be much more accessible.  I tried it today on some papers that B brought home from school, and instead of spending an hour puzzling it out with the help of Google translate, I spent 10 minutes reading through the pages in sections with the help of my phone.  I think it’s absolutely fantastic, and it’s going to be a pretty amazing tool when I’m in need of understanding something (which is frequently).

And, since it also does Italian translation, I went ahead and downloaded that one, too, since we’re leaving for Rome this evening and we don’t speak any Italian.  I’m fairly certain that it’s going to be a significant help, and will certainly give us more confidence being abroad in a culture where we can barely communicate.  (Other than that, we’re pretty much counting on the fact that we speak, collectively, a little Spanish, French and German and that we’ll be able to make it work.  Which may or may not actually be the case.)

But it’s kind of amazing to have a super powerful real-time pocket translator.  We live in the future.

We live in the future

It has not escaped our notice, being so far away from friends and family, how fortunate we are that we live in an age of email, text messages, smart phones, digital photographs and even video calls.  (Video calls!  This is “the future”!  When I was a kid, the concept of a video phone was half-joking.  And not only can we talk over the computer, but it’s FREE.)  It helps us so much to be able to communicate so quickly and easily with everyone back home and with each other.  (Being without phones for our first month here, and without internet for a week recently has increased our recognition of how wonderful these things are.)

In the past 72 hours, we’ve spoken by video call with every one of our parents, as well as two of my sisters, and I’ve “spoken” by text to my brothers.  Without being able to do that, we’d be feeling even further isolated and distant from our loved ones.  We’re able to show them our new apartment as we get things set up, we’re able to chat about everything from the logistics of selling our house to simple things in every day life.  (Amanda even tried to teach Benjamin to play the spoons today over Skype, and she and I are playing games with our iPhones from 4000 miles away.)  Benjamin is able to keep a connection with his family at an age where memory can be a fleeting thing.  He loves talking on the computer to his family — he knows all the sounds that happen when we’re setting up a call and he will excitedly come over and ask, “Mommy, who are we calling?” (which is often then followed by a request list of everyone he can think of).  For Liam, some of his first memories of his family may eventually be of talking to them on the computer.  And, for everyone at home, as heart wrenching as it may be to see my kids’ progress via computer calls and digital pictures, I can only imagine how hard it would be if the updates came less frequently and vividly.

It’s also keeping me sane — it’s hard not to feel isolated when I’m spending 10+ hours a day at home with the kids.  Benjamin is a good communicator for a 2 year old, but realistically, he’s not always listening to me or inclined to respond.  And, as much as I love discussing dump trucks or Team Umizoomi, I like a little more variety in my conversation.  It’s a nice thing to be able to have a “grown up” interaction, even just by email, during the day.  And knowing that, when things get hard, I have so many friends and family out there, willing to talk and be supportive, is hugely comforting.

But, it’s not just talking to people back home.  I can look up a map of where I am and where I want to go.  I can find a place to eat or a U stop while I’m out and about.  I can let Dan know where we’re going and when we’ll be back.  I can even look up how to say things, or translate what I hear and see.  I have a safety net here, in a strange city, where I don’t speak the language, because I have my phone in my pocket.  And, we can coordinate more mundane things, like grocery shopping and dinner plans.  I truly have a hard time imagining having taken this on before this type of technology existed — in the same way I can’t believe that there was a time where I went out driving alone in my car as a teenager without a cell phone . . . with the plan of walking to a pay phone if something happened to my car!  (Uphill!  Both ways!  In the snow!)

We are so grateful for technology.  It’s keeping us in touch with our families, and it’s making the transition here easier.  (I love my iPhone.  I don’t care.)