Thursday, October 29, 2015

Is Owning a Smart Phone an Oxymoron?

Smart phones, as a symbol of advanced technology and modern communication savvy, have been around since 1999. Blackberries hit the US market in 2003. Apple released the iPhone in 2007, and the open-source Androids followed a year later. 

While most people I know have one, I don't.

On the one hand, this is frustrating for friends and clients who want me more readily available. And it's a problem on long-distance trains (which I ride a lot) where I don't have access to wifi and thus can't read or work on cloud-based documents en route (think Google Drive and Drop Box). It can also be awkward coordinating pick-ups and deliveries from late-arriving choo choos.

But all of that said, I have a very active life via email, phone calls, live conversations, and even blogging. And I'm scratching my head trying to figure out why my life would be better with a smart phone. I watch friends get them and suddenly join the cell phone obsessed who move through life more or less as zombies tracking the information flow running across their handheld devices. (Have you gone into a Starbucks lately and scanned the patrons? Most are looking at devices; not each other.) It's hard to tell who's running whom, and there is nothing about that culture that's appealing.

To be sure, owning a smart phone does not require that you be sucked in, but most are. People preferentially respond to messages based on the medium of their transmission, rather than by the urgency or weightiness of the information. How often are live conversations interrupted by the compelling ding (or clever jingle) announcing an incoming text? It's appalling when you think about it.

• • •
All of that said, I am not a Luddite. I've been conducting the bulk of my work via laptops for the past 20 years and there's no going back. But I'm also discerning about how much I let technology into my daily life. I don't own a TV, and I still read books (not Nooks). I travel a lot, but I take the train as much as possible and rarely fly. I don't own a car.

Is it the right mix? I'm not sure. Mine works for me, but I think a lot of different choices can work for others. Without doubt, smart phones are potent—they're essentially mini-computers—but people don't own smart phones instead of a computer; they own one in addition to a computer.

I worry when people shift their lives and habits based more on what they can get clever apps for than what they need. Technology does not teach discernment or ethics, and I'm concerned about how hard it is not use a thing once you own it and are aware of its capabilities. In short I'm concerned about the marketplace driving use, rather than the other way around, and then hearing the free-market defense of an unfettered, anything goes market. It's scary. This culture's thirst for the latest gizmo is pretty much unquenchable.

Maybe the cornucopia of choices in front of us is not Xmas every day, but a Trojan horse. If some things were a little harder to do, maybe they wouldn't be chosen quite so much. Life would be slower, and maybe a little saner. Maybe fewer smart phones would result in fewer stupid choices. It's a thought.


Booklover said...

A must-read lecture by Neil Gaiman on the future of information flow.

Astounding stats re amount of info

Liz E said...

Like yourself, I do not have a smart phone. I have a regular cell phone where I can make calls/send texts. There are days where I turn my phone off. I won't subject myself to 24 hour availability. One of the things that bothers me most about our cell phone culture is the lack of courtesy. I am tired of being subjected to loud phone conversations in public spaces. I'm afraid our worship of technology has doomed us to become its slave.

vera said...

"there is nothing about that culture that's appealing"

Smart phones for stupidpeople. Heh. Don't do cell phones of any kind. Don't like what they do to people, and relationships, and yes, courtesy too. It's pretty unbearable for things to get even ruder than they already were.