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April 9, 2016

Why Smartphones Won’t Ruin Our Lives

Girl using a smartphone

If you’re younger than 50 there’s probably a smartphone in close proximity to you at this very moment. Ten years ago, it likely wouldnt’ve been there, whether it’s in your pocket, on your desk or in your hand (displaying this blog post). Since then, worldwide smartphone sales have increased 23-fold, and are projected to reach 1.5 billion units in 2016. All in all, IT research company Gartner predicts that 6.4 BILLION connected “things” will be used during the course of this year. Let me spell that out for you: 6 400 000 000 phones, tablets, computers, houses, cars, refrigerators, washing machines, and plenty of other stuff, connected to the vast network that is the Internet. That’s a hell of a lot of devices!

Device Love

(Photo: “Device Love” by lukew / CC BY)

The Internet is transforming the way we live, that’s for sure. And a great number of people will tell you that things are changing for the worse. Selfie culture is destroying our society! The internet was invented by the devil! The government is reptiles!

Cross your heart: Are we doomed?

Sounds scary, right? So… what to make of it? The way I see it (which is the only way to see it, thank you very much), you have two options:

  1. Break out in utter panic and set your clothes on fire (while wearing them).
  2. Look at the facts and evaluate for yourself if what they’re saying is true.

I know what you’re thinking: both sound like horrible torture. So, out of the goodness of my heart, I’m giving you a third option:

  1. Read the rest of this post.

I know, I know – it might seem like I only started with two terrible suggestions to make this last one look more favorable. But that’s totally not what I did. You’re free to make your own choice.

Selfietime in the ocean

Moving on. While ad hominem and an association fallacy are lurking right around the corner of what I’m about to say, it’s still important to note that people have been condemning new inventions and technologies since the dawn of time. And we’re still here. Books didn’t turn our youth against us, TV didn’t make them dumb, machines have yet to render human labor useless. Alright, that last one might actually happen. Which could be a good thing. But we’re not here to talk about that.

The world didn’t even end! I want my money back!

The fact that humans like to complain and predict the end of the world for next Monday, 3 PM, over and over again, doesn’t mean you can’t trust them with anything. But it should give us a sense of who we’re dealing with here. Christian fanatics see Pikachu as a New Age mascot, intended to convert kids to Eastern religions, Tinky-Winky from the Teletubbies as a bad role model (for being gay), and Harry Potter as an occult satanist. At least in North Korea and the Middle East, they just flat out ban all the fun, instead of denigrating it!

Think of the children, ffs

I guess people just like to be scared. Or at least scare others. Vsauce, one of my favorite YouTube channels, recently made a video about this whole phenomenon, among other things (like me, Michael never talks about just one topic), titled “Juvenoia” (a neologistic portmanteau of juvenile and paranoia). Check it out here.

But let’s get back to the topic. Even if these people are exaggerating, we have to talk about what smartphones are in fact doing to us.

Wet iPhones

We look at them a lot, for one thing. 46 times a day on average, to be more specific. That’s nearly 17 000 times a year. And it’s approximately how often Donald Trump says something utterly outrageous. Which should mean that we’re losing a yuuuge amount of time to the tiny glowing screens. But before you get your gasoline and matches ready, we’ll have to consider TV. Yes, that old thing in the corner where all the dust is piling up. Who uses those anymore anyway? And that’s exactly the point. The same concerned parents who used to worry about their kids becoming spineless television zombies have now shifted their attention to handheld devices. Both literally and metaphorically. Just like Facebook which is now being taken over by relatives and old people, I predict that the same thing will happen to iPhones and Nexuses (Nexi? Whatever). I hope smartwatches are actually usable by then.

Smartphone Addiction – there’s an app for that

So why did I bring up this ancient technology? It’s because it used to take up a lot of people’s time. And now it doesn’t – at least not as much. Instead, we tweet, tumble, and tube. This article by the eMarketer gives a great insight into how long Americans use different types of media every day. While total time spent has in fact increased by one hour since 2011, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone’s skipping classes or neglecting their kids to catch up on those dank memes. Think about how often you use your smartphone where you would usually have literally nothing to do but sit around. On the train, in the anteroom, while waiting for something or someone. Even on the toilet. I’d even say that those instances amount to more than an hour on average for me every day. That means we’re not losing time using our devices, we’re just avoiding boredom.

Girl with a smartphone enjoying herself

And that brings us right back to TV. “Never have I ever used my phone or tablet while the TV was running.” Take a sip, everyone. Even though TV usage has only gone down by half an hour in the last five years (which doesn’t sound like much), radio lost just shy of 10 minutes, and let’s be honest: who listens to the radio anymore? More importantly, television programs have become suppliers of background noise for many people. And the graphs state specifically that multitasking was counted towards each medium individually.

If I don’t make it, tell my iPhone I love it

I probably don’t need to point out all the perks of having all of humanity’s wisdom in your pocket at any time. Plus, a high-end camera to capture every pic-worthy moment of the day. Plus, messengers to keep in touch with people you might never have found again otherwise. Plus, social media to start a political revolution. And so much more.

Smartphones at the coffee table

Alright, some questions still remain unanswered – and even the stuff we do know might turn out to be completely wrong as it has happened an infinite number of times during the course of human history. But the truth is we won’t know how smartphones really affect us until it’s all over. There’s still a slim chance that they revolt and turn on us all at once in our sleep.

I really like what John Lienhard had to say about contemporary comments on new technology and how to evaluate them in retrospect. Comparing the rise of personal computers in 1998, when he held that speech, to that of printed books 500 years prior, he came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter what people, even the smartest ones, had to say about the novel invention (pun intended) that was the printing press. Much more important was, what came of it all. What people actually did with their new possibilities, how they unknowingly shaped the world we live in today. We might be in the same situation right around now, so let’s make the best of it.

My conclusion? I don’t have one. Get off my back.

There’s one other possibility that we haven’t considered yet: Maybe none of it will matter in a few years. At the rate technology is changing these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if no one even uses smartphones in another ten years. If they can spread this fast, they can die out this fast, as well. And that would make this post – and all the others – obsolete. Think about it; the same thing happened to VHS, pagers, and the fax machine. Oh, and airships.

Either way: Apple, Google, Windows, and “Others” are not the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Books and magazines can be just as bad for your neck as smartphones. The whole deal about causing bad sight has been controversial since the invention of the luminescent screen. Radiation from cellphones doesn’t seem to cause brain cancer. Doomsday was postponed till next year, sorry for the inconvenience.

Fear mongering might be the oldest trick in the book – but it won’t be part of Jimmy’s Book.

Taking beautiful pictures with your iPhone

What do you think about the smartphone scare? Let me know in the comments below.