on the debilitating smart phones

Toronto, 2013.07.12

I think the smart phone is crippling us.

These days, it's impossible to hold a meeting without at least one party using their smart phone, usually with the excuse "it's my child." You cannot have a quick scheduled meeting with even one person without them checking their phone at some point, even if it's just a five or ten minute meeting. And then there are all the missed and late meetings, the missed deadlines, the forgotten agreements, the things things not looked into, the calls they forgot to make, etc.

I once got together with three friends over drinks, the first time I'd seen all three in one spot in years (and the last time I'd ever see one of them, it turned out). All conversation ground to a halt more than once that evening, as my friends were all stuck in their smart phones. What was the point in attending?

It's a recent phenomenon. Someone will ask for important information by email and when you've sent it they'll still be distractedly asking you for that email the next time you see them, still staring at their phone and thumbing away. The cell phone didn't do this to people. Email certainly didn't. I'm left with the impression that it's the always on, always engaged, ever so smart phone that's doing it. People are no longer even phoning each other, it's all semi-coherent text messages and allowing things to slide because everyone is "too busy" (read: too distracted). People keep a charger and spare batteries at hand because they use their phone so much that one battery can only go about four hours.

This is crippling behavior.

Don't get me wrong, I think smart phones have amazing utility. Using a dictionary in Japan on my iPhone helped me finally turn the corner with the language. And if you're somewhere in a city of 36m people and there's no signage you can read, a live map with your location pinpointed by GPS is fantastic. But most of things for which people "need" a smart phone can be done with a cell phone, a laptop, and a notepad.

Walking around the city here, or being in the elevator or on the subway, it's like you're surrounded by a breed of zombie staring at the blue light and wrapped up in the latest on celebrity arrests, thumbing up the vanity posts of people they haven't seen in ten years, or keeping up with whatever vital shit is going down on wherever they're not. As for what is happening where they are? They can text you about that later for an update.

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