“Why are you wearing a watch?” The query was from my wife to my sister and caught me off guard. She went on to explain that you didn’t see as many people wearing watches anymore as most people checked their mobile phone if they wanted to see the time. In fact, many people with a watch still checked their phone first. As we mulled this over, it began to dawn on us just how much our society has been changed by the advancements in and usage of smartphones.
So many facets of our lives have been altered by this technology which has changed the way we relate to each other and the world. Take photography for example. Outside the realm of professional photography you rarely see the usage of film anymore. Can you imagine not being able to see the photo you just took? How would you know if it turned out right? What if your eyes were closed? (I have many such photos sitting in boxes in my garage. I am not the most photogenic – hard to believe I know). Who prints all their photos out these days anyways? We also don’t get together to look at photos anymore. After the vacation, wedding or Christmas we used to gather and share our stories and photos. Now they are posted online, and not just after the event but often seconds after they are taken. Even traditional digital cameras are getting less usage due to the increased quality of the cameras in our phones. And the amount of photos is also increasing. Can I show you my lunch? My shoes? My cat? (she sleeps you know – it’s SO cute) We are sharing snapshots of our lives at a greater pace than ever before without ever having to actually look each other in the eye.
Another changed facet is the argument. Now we don’t fight over hard-to-remember details - we just check our phones. It is not unusual to see a circle of people, facing each other, all submerged in their phones racing to see who can get the information first. This picture would have been laughable or inconceivable twenty years ago. We are actually holding less information in our heads than ever before. We don’t need to search our brains for the name of that actress or construct rhymes for the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue because we just have to ask our phones (and now we can verbally ask without even having to Google it). When was the last time you tried to remember the phone number of someone without using your phone? Not too easy is it? Our smartphone has become just that – our “smarts”. Without them we are like Clark Kent when he lost his powers – not so super after all.
Smartphone technology is advancing so quickly that after two or three years of having the same phone we feel like, “What is this ugly hunk of metal I am stuck with? How did I get tricked into buying this glorified paperweight like so many magic beans?” My wife recently had this experience when she exchanged her antiquated LG Dare (insert scornful laughter here) for an iPhone. With my phone being an Android we have a real Romeo and Juliet relationship happening. Don’t worry about us though – the tragic interplay only serves to heighten our star-crossed romance. After her upgrade a whole new world opened to her. At first she set firm boundaries and disdained things like games because they were time wasters. This week she joined the Dark Side when I showed her a game on my phone. Within hours she had more than doubled my best score (the Force is strong in that one). This is actually a bit of a relief to me because I can no longer get in trouble for being on my phone all the time. Half the time when I find her she is holed up, having some quality time alone with Siri.
"Mobile phones 10 years ago"
And it would seem that quality time alone with our phones is what most of us want. In the fall of 2010 a study asked close to 1000 college students in ten countries on five continents to go for 24 hours without using media. The results of this “World Unplugged” day were quite astounding. Many students reported withdrawal symptoms similar to other addictions such as itching, subconsciously hearing the phone ring, feeling it vibrate or even reaching for a calculator to feel something with a comparable shape in their hand. Others reported feelings of depression, extreme loneliness or anxiety - like a piece of them was missing. Still others couldn’t think of anything to fill their time, staring blankly at the ceiling, repeatedly checking the cupboards or eating to fill the void of boredom. One of the conclusions that the study reached was that for this generation, smartphones are both a Swiss army knife and a security blanket (to read more go to http://theworldunplugged.wordpress.com).
Whether or not you cuddle your smartphone at night, it is likely that our reliance on technology will only continue to increase. When you look at pictures of cell phones ten years ago and compare them to today’s smartphones it becomes difficult to even imagine what phones will look like or be able to do in another ten years. However, in the midst of all the changes, it is important to remember that some things cannot be replaced. A warm hug, an afternoon in the sun or the joy of making someone smile are all things that technology cannot fully replicate. At some time we will all need to unplug in order to experience the world around us. This is what it means to be smarter than your smartphone.
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