After reading this blog prompt, I knew I wanted to write about smartphones. One afternoon a few months ago, I was laying in my living room at home with the new family puppy. This also meant that I was subject to my mom’s favorite TV shows, Ellen, Dr. Oz, etc. However, I figured that the excruciating pain of watching Ellen’s dancing and listening to Dr. Oz’s medical advice, both of which my mom finds to be extremely entertaining and life-changing, would be worth it for just that one afternoon if it meant I could play with the new puppy. In between telling my dog how much I loved her, in my puppy/baby voice of course (don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about), something on the TV grabbed my attention. Sherry Turkle, an MIT technology and society specialist, was on one of the shows talking about her recently-published book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. The title of the book should explain the main idea pretty clearly, but if you want to know more, I will let her fill you in from a recent TED talk.
It was fascinating to listen to her talk about the false impression that technology has “connected” us, when in reality, it has made us more alone than ever. So maybe I didn’t run out to the bookstore (or pull out my phone to shop on amazon.com) to buy the book, but the general idea behind her research changed the way I viewed social interactions with friends. While I still can be found checking scores of games or texting with a friend, I try to make a conscious effort to not be on my phone when I am with my friends. That being said, this approach is often extremely boring because when I put my phone away for good and look up to start conversation with my friends, I often see everyone looking down at their phones. But I blame the people, not the phones.
Simply do a Google search for “cell phone call saved life” and you will find plenty of evidence for the good that comes out of having these phones. So maybe these are extreme cases, but I am sure you can all individually think of a time when having a smartphone was clutch. Personally, I would have probably missed my flight, or had a panic attack at the very least, to Raleigh this morning if I didn’t have the ability to check-in for my flight on my phone, skipping a 15-minute wait to print out my boarding pass. However, as Sherry points out in her book, we are often times sitting in a room with many people, but we might as well be in different places due to the fact that we have our heads buried in our phones. This is the problem with smartphones; we do not need to be playing Monster Truck jump or whatever stupid game that people play all day when we are with other people. After a week in Jamaica without being able to use cell phones to communicate and arrange plans to meet up with friends for meals or activities, I realized that I can ‘t survive without a phone—but strictly for that purpose. I am not trying to say that I am innocent of smartphone abuse, but if we all just made a conscious effort to use them for communicating with others rather than for personal pleasure, I believe that everyone would be better off. It is not the phone’s fault for offering applications that are useful in the right setting, but instead, it is the user’s fault for not being able to control when he/she chooses to use this application.