As the only person in the Western world who doesn’t currently own a smart phone, I suppose I don’t have much of a leg to stand on, but I still wish we could grind most of them up and turn them into something more edifying, like sno-cone machines or really cool affordable sports cars.
As it is, they’re turning most of society into a bunch of catatonic slugs. Honestly, have you ever seen a more perfectly vacant expression on anyone’s face than the look of someone deep in the middle of texting what they’re doing right…this…second? At that moment, every form of outside stimulus is irrelevant. Sirens, horns, train whistles, fire alarms, gunfire, explosions—nothing penetrates. Whatever is glowing on that little screen is more compelling than eating, drinking, breathing or even television.
It’s the perfect personal electronic storm: telephone, video phone, personal computer, still and video camera, game platform, and repository for every application from the one that lets you buy cheap plane tickets to that really baffling one that identifies songs when you hold the phone close to a speaker (yes, it was The Chiffons who did “One Fine Day” and not The Marvelettes).
If it could whip up a Denver omelet, there are guys who would ask for its hand in marriage.
If that view sounds a trifle extreme, listen to what the man who has a few bazillion of these devices pointed in his direction nearly every day has to say:
If you “live glued to the computer and become a slave to the computer, you lose your freedom,” said Pope Francis, recently addressing a group of young people while on a visit to Sarajevo. When the digital life “leads you away from everyday life, family life, social life, and also sports, the arts…this is a psychological illness.”
And the most irritating manifestation of this lunacy, if I may run with the pope’s thought, is the compulsion to photograph absolutely everything and then immediately blip the images into the phones of friends far and wide. It was true 100 years ago and it’s true now: no one wants to see your vacation photos. Sadder still is the person who places a higher priority on capturing the world’s visual wonders while peering through the confining viewfinder of a smart phone instead of actually looking at the sights directly, experiencing them viscerally, and remembering them. Sightseeing has morphed from a delightful visual adventure into a mechanical digital scavenger hunt.
The genie is well out of the bottle on this one, of course, and even the pope knows it. He poses happily for selfies with young people, and he’s digitally literate, with his own Twitter handle (@Pontifex). Still, I’m betting that when he places one of his famous cold calls to comfort or cheer up someone who needs it, he’s likely using a desktop land line, which somehow seems more personal.
Better still: talking face to face. It’s becoming a radical concept, I know, but darned if it doesn’t work. No worries about rollover minutes, limitations on message length, hashtags, emoticons or whether the flash went off.
It just might catch on.