Are Smartphones Really Smart?
Perhaps smartphones should be renamed dumbphones due to the dumbing-down of social interaction between humans today. Like any device, a cellphone is a tool like a TV or a PC –they have their places in our lives– but the ubiquitous mobile phone has become so much more than a device. It’s become an extension of our very beings and for most of us, indispensable, but for many, an addiction.
Clearly I’m a tech fan or I wouldn’t be writing for DCT and my journey from a briefcase-sized mobile phone to a Galaxy Note 8 during the last twenty-odd years is a slice of tech history, as can be seen in Jim Hillier’s excellent 2015 article SmartPhones: What the DCT Team Uses and Why.
However, I’m an inveterate tinkerer and admirer of shiny things which I’ve been known to covet, Gollum-like, until I finally reach that Nirvana-like state of unboxing. So for me, the acquisition of the shiny thing is the pinnacle and I use my phone as the tool for as it was designed to be used– principally a messaging device, a superb camera, and a GPS. As far as I’m concerned those are the three most useful tools and let’s face it, there are probably many more functions on a smartphone that we never use.
Can’t You See That I’m Busy?
Since Jim’s article, smartphones have become much smarter — or dumber, depending on your point of view — and permeate our lives in ways that I couldn’t have imagined just a few short years ago. This is particularly noticeable with the so-called millennials whose default body pose, almost from dawn to dusk can be the same or similar to the image above. Or, if the user is highly dexterous, the phone is held in one hand whilst the other is adjusting the volume on their ear-buds. On numerous occasions I’ve attempted to start an actual verbal, human conversation with a millennial who is gripped in this trance-like, zombie state, only to be rebuffed with them asking why I can’t see that they’re busy. This kind of interaction causes some friction because, since we’re using labels here, millennials regard me as a boomer — one who was born in the 50s — and therefore could never understand their universe and interrupting them when they’re busy scrolling through Instagram is a perverse invasion of privacy, at least according to the body language emitted anyway.
And I always thought millennials were multi-taskers, something I have witnessed on many occasions.
I’m not a breakfast person as a rule, but I have observed youngsters at breakfast; staring at their phones, each watching different videos or scrolling through different social media, yet simultaneously managing to hold a fragmented conversation. Surely that in itself is multi-tasking? I’m not usually a rubbernecker either, but on overhearing what is being said, I scratch my head because it seems to come from a different dimension– like a broken up radio signal from a galaxy many light-years away.
But this is not a dig at millennials per se– they just happen to have embraced the smartphone as their indispensable companion and portal to the world. In our household, I’ve asked that phones not be brought to the dinner table because they’re an invasion and distract from any meaningful conversation. In fact, it was getting to the point where every topic reminded someone of something else, such as a meme, a gif or a daft cat video, so it had to be illustrated visually on someone’s phone and thrust into your face whether or not you wanted to see the meme that you’d seen a thousand times already.
Okay, I get it, smartphones can do almost anything today and they are the perfect portable medium that you can whip out of your pocket like drawing a gun. But they shouldn’t replace social interaction, surely?
Can I Call You Back?
Long, long ago in a land of fairies and elves, my dad would refer to the telephone — the one with the circular dial — as the instrument of the Devil and I would chortle at his pre-war attitude. However, back here in the twenties, I can now see what he meant, but on a much larger scale. For example, how many times have you been deep in conversation with someone, their phone chirps or vibrates, they whip it out, turn away and start yakking with the caller as if you didn’t even exist? When I get a call in those circumstances, I either ignore it because I know that it’s hardly ever a matter of life and death, or I have the phone set to silent and check it later. In fact, I have mine set to silent most of the time and it vibrates if there’s a message or a call. I mean, I’m not exactly the president’s chief of staff, so having it trilling away every few minutes is an unnecessary distraction, not just for me but for the people around me.
Do You Think Smartphones Are Anti-Social?
In a similar vein to the gun debate, surely it’s the people that use smartphones that should take more responsibility? In fact, I know dozens of people who don’t own a mobile phone, swearing that they never will and that their lives are richer and less stressful after the fact. But I believe it goes further than that; having a smartphone in your face for eighteen hours a day smacks of addiction to me and like all vices, would surely require some kind of remedial treatment. But are you going to be the first to tell someone they have a problem?
You know that annoying habit your friend has of casually checking her texts while you’re talking? Well, it’s so common, there’s now an actual name for it: phubbing, as in phone-snubbing. You’d never do that, right?!
But hey, it’s not all bad and I’m certainly no paragon of virtue. I’ve probably installed more Apps than I need, I probably only ever use half of them or less, but the ones I do use have become indispensable because apart from my customers knocking on the front door in the traditional way, it’s a little more convenient for them to send me a WhatsApp message. Likewise, I can send someone my exact location which, amongst the thousands of other uses our phones have, just makes life a little simpler. And simpler is what we all want, but not to the point of smartphones ruling our lives.