Thursday, March 17, 2011

Smart Phone, Dumb Idea

I heard on Monday morning that some iPhone owners were discovering their phones couldn't keep track of Daylight Savings Time.  It gave me a chuckle and I shook my head.  So many people have bought these so-called "smart" phones because of their advanced capabilities, the capacity to run "apps," all that jazz.

When I went up to a meeting later that same morning, I noticed that my supervisor, usually very punctual, was a little late.  I asked him what time he had.

The man doesn't wear a watch.  He popped his iPhone out of his pocket and tapped it.

"Five pm?"

I laughed very, very hard.  And loudly.  But consider, even if I had forgotten to reset my watch on Sunday (I did it in church), it wouldn't have been off by more than an hour.  And not relying on the watch to give me an actual reminder of when things are supposed to happen, I could perform the mental gymnastics required to add an hour to the time it showed, and realize I was off schedule.

The more you rely on machines to do your thinking for you, the more you tend to fall out of the habit of doing the thinking in the first place.  That's my take on it.

Now there are plenty of voices to be heard that will tell you, it's just a tool.  Better tools make for better workers.  They're not wrong, but I think in the case of the smartphone, they're not right, either.  Consider the tools the smartphone can provide.

For the sake of brevity, I'm only going to call on the iPhone for an example, but I'm sure there are others you can think of.

The iPhone tells time.  Big deal, so does every other cellphone out there.  My "dumb" phone gets a time signal from the tower and doesn't rely on an internal clock or software to tell it what to show on the screen.  And if you don't have a phone, that's no biggie: without turning far at all, I can see three more: on the microwave oven, on the wall, and on the computer.  The computer also gets an updated time signal so it's always right.  And of course, there's also the wristwatch.

The iPhone can be a flashlight.  Well, no, it can't.  You can download an app that makes the whole screen light up white, so it's a diffuse area light.  Not very useful over a distance greater than about three feet.  I have a flashlight on my belt so bright you can't look directly at it  That said, I have once or twice used my dumbphone in similar manner, flicking up a bright image to cast a pale light.  In a pinch, it isn't worthless.  But don't be misled, it isn't worth much.

The iPhone lets you surf the web.  Well, my dumbphone doesn't do that.  But when I'm not at my desk, I'm doing things that don't require web surfing.  I occasionally see people trying to remember something or other, trying to fetch a certain bit of recall, and they give up very quickly - they whip out the iPhone, look up the factoid they're trying to dredge up, and go on with their conversation.  I think that's permitting the memory skills to lapse through disuse.  Why try to remember anything when you can just google it?  Why indeed.

The iPhone is great for texting.  Yeah, well - how great is texting?  How much pointless drivel are you sharing that really doesn't need to be expressed?  How much bandwidth are you taking up, sharing every little thought off the top of your head on Twitter?  Charlie Sheen, as entertaining as he is, need not be the center of the universe.  You don't have to read whatever left field noise he's spouted in the last five minutes.  There are real live people right around you - why not talk to them instead?

Talk about things you don't do with your iPhone, I mean.

One thing I saw recently, the iPad being used as a ridiculous MaxiPhone.  The iPad doesn't have iPhone functions, but the owner had engaged a couple of apps so that he could use his iPad, running Skype, while holding it up to his head.  In the trend of ever-smaller, ever more-adaptable portable devices, the large iPad against the man's ear was frankly pretty amusing.

The commercials say such tools are essential, that you won't imagine how you ever got along without them.  But if you don't have an iPhone or other smart phone, then you are already getting along without them.  Can you imagine the next five minutes without an iPhone?  It's not that hard, is it?

I tried to convince myself I wanted a smart phone.  I looked at the apps, I looked at the texting capabilities.  None of it matters, it's not that useful in the greater scheme of things.  The much greater resolution of the camera was very compelling, but not essential.  Certainly not essential enough to make me want to get the necessary data packages for the smart phone's other features, not essential enough to warrant the purchase price.  For the price of the purchase, I could buy two good cameras and still not have to pay for the data package.

Sure, it's versatile.  It's flexible, it can do many things.  But those many things aren't doing you much good.  You'd be better served to carry a Vise Grip in your pocket and wear a dumb phone.  You can't tighten a lug nut with a smart phone.

It might make a fine hammer though.  Go on, bash it on something.  Tell me how it works out.

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