02/04/2013 05:26 pm ET Updated Apr 06, 2013

Half of Us Have Computers in Our Pockets, Though You'd Hardly Know it

You know how you find it simultaneously sad and annoying when you're in a long line at the grocery store and a little old lady painstakingly takes out her checkbook and pen, painstakingly writes a check and sloooowly tears it out and hands it to the cashier, who then struggles to put it through some machine that never works because it's used so rarely? Well, in the very near future, people will be rolling their eyes at you when you dig out your debit card and fumble with the fake pen thingy on a string and actually have to swipe your card and push buttons to pay for your groceries...

Smartphones haven't even been around for six years, but already they're changing the way people function. Some people, that is. About 50% of Americans have smartphones, but many haven't even begun to appreciate what they're capable of, or how much they're going to change our world.

Remember smoking sections? They used to be half the restaurant. Then they were two tables next to the bathrooms. Then they were gone.

That's the future of cash registers. Soon, you'll be in a store, and all the people around you will have their phones out and you'll be asking yourself "What are they doing?" They're shopping, is what. Scanning barcodes to see if their size or preferred color is in the store (not digging through piles, not waiting to catch the attention of a harried salesperson to see if he or she can "look in back"). If it is, they're told where to find it. If it isn't, they can order it online right on the spot. The app they're using knows their address, of course. They're redeeming the virtual coupons they've got stored in their phones, or the coupons that were pushed to them as they entered the building. Coupons for Clinique "Pink Beach" lipstick and size 29/32 Levi's 511s because the store (and therefore the app) knows they bought those things there not long ago. And they're paying for their items with their phones (not waiting in line) while strolling along the jewelry counter. Meanwhile, you're still looking for a clerk or a register (hint: back of the store, by the bathrooms).

This is not science fiction. This is where mobile phone technology is right now, and these are examples of practical applications of all the data you've been giving to websites and apps and phone companies and retail companies about your tastes, purchases, location, etc. for some time now (with and without your knowledge).

The bottom line is this: Tech is changing very fast. But people aren't changing as quickly, and neither are their prepackaged sources of information, like magazines. This might explain why so many people I know who are over 40 and own smartphones don't even know what an app is.

If you're not keeping up with the changes that are happening, it's not entirely your fault. Pretty much only geek sites cover mobile tech adequately, and you don't read that stuff because you're not a geek. I can't find any mainstream lifestyle magazines (except a couple for men) that have a section dedicated to tech, despite the fact that half of Americans are walking around with powerful computers in their pockets and purses. These publications stick an app-related article in here and there, under food or health or organizing. Where they're easy to miss. Maybe it's time for them to be front and center. Otherwise, their readers might soon be the ones wandering around looking for the cash register.