Do Smart Phones Make You Smarter?June 19, 2012
I resisted. God, how I resisted.
I kept saying to anyone who would listen, “Why would anyone need a fancy phone that lets you get emails, access Twitter and Facebook, and surf the web – no matter where you are?” I would proudly show off my little dinosaur of a Nokia that did nothing except make calls and send texts (at least when Telkomsel were having a good day), and accuse my technology fashion victim friends of suffering from full-time digital data addiction.
“I don’t want an in-phone camera”, I would snort, “I have a perfectly good digital camera that megapixels any of your toy phone cameras to death”. I would sneer at those who could not tear themselves away from their digital connectivity for more than a few minutes, even when their expressions, if not their comments, screamed “Luddite!”
And then, in a moment of impulsive madness while on a quick trip to the Old Country, I bought a smartphone. “It’s only an entry model”, said the sales person, demonstrating the shiny little thing and ‘explaining’ how it works by performing an incomprehensibly rapid finger fandango on the screen, producing a confusing succession of icons, websites and social media pages. “The screen’s a little small”, he said worriedly, “but it’s a lot bigger than that, er, thing”, he went on, eyeing my ancient Nokia as if it was made of bakelite and had a rotary dial. “And it’s in colour too … and it has Gorilla Glass”, he added as an afterthought, still bemusedly staring at the scratched monochrome screen of my old phone.
Gorilla Glass. Well, that was the clincher. Can’t have a phone without Gorilla Glass, I thought, even if I haven’t got a clue what that is. So I bought it, and my life changed forever.
I had to re-learn to type, after first switching off some weird, QWERTY screen gesture-based finger-sweeping technique which was obviously designed to be used by a small, yoga-enabled octopus. Once I reverted to a more familiar keypad layout, all I had to do was to work out how not to press four keys at once with my fat fingers. For those who received my texted gibberish during the steeper part of the learning curve, I am profoundly sorry.
Then there are the apps. Millions of them, all requiring downloads and updates, and all generating icons that clogged up my home screens until they resembled a scrabble board on hallucinogens. It took a week to learn how to move the damn things around without activating them, or making them vanish without a trace. The touch screen is so sensitive that it is almost impossible to pick the phone up without triggering an avalanche of programs and opening unwanted links.
I finally developed a technique of holding the phone by its edges with all unnecessary fingers splayed out of harm’s way. Even so, I keep activating the side-mounted on/off button and its ring-volume counterpart on the opposite side. Everything generally worked, but the downside was that I looked like a bencong waiting for his nail polish to dry.
Of course, every new phone has a design quirk, and mine is no exception. I missed ten incoming calls because I just couldn’t answer them. I became convinced that I had a faulty phone. You see, every button or icon on the thing requires a simple push to operate, as one would expect. But when my phone rings, pushing the little green phone icon does not answer the call. I could tap it, double-click it, push it until my fancy bulletproof Gorilla Glass practically cracked – but nothing. By the merest fluke, I discovered that you have to push and slide the icon to the right – just to answer the phone. Grrr. No wonder this device comes with a General Dynamics hull – the temptation to smash it on the ground is almost irresistible.
The thing is a technological marvel, but I don’t yet know what I really feel about it. I love being out and about, and following my tweet stream – that vast mine of mundane overburden seeded with the occasional priceless nugget. I love following the news feeds from sources all over the world, especially those whose sites are optimised for mobile delivery. I enjoy the comments that appear on my blog, on Facebook and other sites. I love the immediacy of the experience of instant communication and the ability to respond to them quickly.
But I dislike those same things because they are always there, pinging and chiming and ringing and beeping, demanding my attention instantly, tethering me to the internet’s social media 24/7 without respite. I miss reading – real books that is – at the breakfast warung, the coffee shop in the afternoon, at dinner and at night in bed before going to sleep. Before the smartphone, I was reading 4-5 books per week. After the smartphone – well I can’t tell you how many, because I haven’t finished the one I started three weeks ago.
And the name of the beast itself – ‘smartphone’? Well, undoubtedly the one I have now is a lot ‘smarter’ than my old phone. The Samsung company people? Well, they’re pretty smart too; they are making a lot of money from techno-chasers like myself. The marketing people? Brilliant. Call a consumer item smart, a word that subtly promises to confer that very quality on its users, and you have it made.
Did it work for me? With the onset of any new paradigm, a new equilibrium has to be reached, and I haven’t managed it yet. My challenge now is to balance the demands of my new-found ‘smart’ connectivity with that other stuff I used to do. “Life”, I think they call it.
When I do, I’ll let you know whether I made a smart choice or not.