The other weekend, I was raking leaves in my yard when I noticed a black SUV gently idling down the street. I didn’t identify the vehicle, and it appeared out of place as if the driver was unsure where to go… or possibly scoping out houses to rob (hey, I’m a crime writer by nature).
When the automobile approached, the passenger window rolled down. An older guy respectfully asked if I knew the name of a local street. I showed him how to get there, and he thanked me excessively before driving away.
That made me realize that I hadn’t been asked for directions in years, because most people now use their mobile devices for maps and directions. I reflected on how I wouldn’t have had that good experience with that appreciative driver if he hadn’t been using a device to direct him, which sparked a train of thinking about how mobile devices are transforming society. What have we gained, and what have we lost?
1. We always know how to get there
It’s fantastic to get rid of the paper maps and not have to phone folks to figure out how to go somewhere or when they’re coming to my house. All we need is the address, and we’re good to go! We’ve arrived.
But we’re also missing out on the unique discussion that only people who live in their own areas can provide. Google Maps isn’t telling us that our turn is directly after the red mailbox and that it’s a tough one, so take it slowly. It can also be ambiguous while directing us through perplexing situations such as rotaries or 5-way crossroads. And, as someone who used to get “Triptiks” from AAA, having not only the complete route for a trip mapped out was very great.
2. We can buy almost anything immediately
According to Adweek.com, “smartphones and tablets will account for $1.6 billion in sales on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday combined.” It’s fantastic that we can get whatever we want whenever we want.
However, this might be problematic for compulsive consumers or those who are less than accountable for their activities (think inebriated college students after 2 a.m.). Obviously, this is a problem that may affect anyone with poor impulse control, and mobile gadgets are just a conduit for their problem, not the problem itself. However, I’ve discovered that real-life employees may be incredibly helpful in providing information – for example, the paint guy at my local hardware shop knows more about paint than anyone I’ve met. Sure, you can get internet guidance and reviews to assist you to decide what to buy, but the human touch from educated specialists you can talk to in person cannot be replaced.
3. We’re always available
We’re always at the beck and call of individuals we know, whether by a phone call, text, email, social media, or some other means of communication, as long as we have a mobile device with us. Sure, the devices feature “mute” and “off” buttons, but the constant flow of input can make many people hesitant to use (or rely on) these alternatives for long, especially if our mobile devices are used for work or emergency contact from loved ones. In fact, calling someone on their cell phone and not getting a response can be upsetting or frustrating. Isn’t that what they’re there for?
However, people who want to concentrate and stay focused on a single task at a time must exercise strict discipline on themselves (and likely those in their inner circle) lest they drift from one interruption to the next, checking that Facebook message a friend just sent or seeing if their spouses responded to that text. It’s like trying to work in an office with the door open while a massive party is going on in the hallway outside. I’ve discovered that it’s best to either close the door and focus or to take the day off (if feasible) and officially attend the party; working halfway is a formula for low productivity.
4. No more waiting for the 11 p.m. news
Nowadays, if something major occurs (no, the Kardashians aren’t remotely significant), we take out our gadgets to check what’s going on, whether it’s a weather emergency, a crisis, or a historic occasion. Even if the website we’re on is overcrowded or slow, there are plenty of alternatives to choose from. Isn’t it all part of our “need to know now” mentality?
However, if the news isn’t earth-shattering, the demand to know now can detract from the present moment. If it’s just another interruption, it takes time away from what we’re doing (or trying to get done). Many news articles seem to be played up or overemphasized as part of a “Hey! Look over here!” distraction, whether to promote commercials, news sources, or some other ulterior reason. This simply adds to the short attention span that is becoming a major issue for many individuals.
5. We’re never bored
Our mobile gadgets have the ability to store or connect to an infinite amount of content. With streaming audio and video, large storage capacities, and quick processors, you can listen to music, watch movies, read e-books, browse the web, interact with others, and play games in a matter of seconds. Nobody should ever be bored with this much diversity, right?
But… I believe it is critical for people to understand how to deal with boredom. Many of us believe that the phrase “I have nothing to do” should be avoided rather than welcomed. I’ve done that myself, such as during vehicle journeys when I was driving while my family slept and turned down the radio so as not to wake them. Boredom provides an opportunity to ponder, consider, and plan: to relive the past or to envision the future. It can be beneficial rather than terrifying. I was watching “LOST” at the time and spent several hours looking over all the clues, intricacies, and story aspects that were yet to be revealed (as it turned out).
6. We never have to take chances
My wife and I were out the other week when we decided on the whim of the moment to acquire tickets to see the WWII film “Fury.” I used my smartphone to line up tickets at a theatre in the next town over — the only one with seats left for the concert – and we picked them up before entering the theatre. It’s great that we didn’t have to just drive over and hope to get lucky with a pair of seats, right?
But… there’s something to be said for simply gambling and trying your luck without employing the real-life equivalent of a “cheat code.” Sure, it’s better than arriving at the theatre and discovering that all of the seats are taken, but that would have offered up some other possibilities: another movie? Should I go somewhere else nearby? View a later episode? Don’t get me wrong: if my smartphone can improve my chances of doing something I truly want, I’ll play it, but it detracts from the unpredictable nature of life with its themes of giving and take or victories and losses.
7. We don’t need to know all these useless trivia
Many people have commented on this: thanks to mobile devices, there is no need to know trivial information like which planet is sixth from the sun, who won the War of 1812, or how many digits are in Pi (hint: a lot). We can just look it up right away, saving our brains for more essential things like what Kim Kardashian is up to (not to beat a dead horse).
However, this ease of access to information has the potential to degrade our own personal knowledge vaults as well as critical thinking abilities. If we unload all of that stuff somewhere else and just access it when (or if) we need it, we’ll miss out on a lot of interesting and valuable things that will stymie us if we don’t have our mobile devices. In essence, we’re outsourcing our brain’s abilities to an artificial brain, which can’t reason or meaningfully utilize its abilities to improve our lives or activities – other than simply spitting out the information we request. When information is applied to the relevant circumstances by a brain that is genuinely engaged with what is happening, it becomes more valuable.
8. We never have to disconnect from friends or family
Social networking has the potential to be genuinely fantastic. I use it to communicate with family members across the country that I don’t get to see on a regular basis. Because of it, I’ve formed and deepened relationships with others in my community. And I’ve maintained in touch with folks who have known me my entire life; before social media, we would have just lost touch, gradually forgetting each other’s names and any previous encounters.
However, there are numerous reports of social media destroying marriages, business connections, and familial ties. It can bring people together when used correctly by well-adjusted people. When people with underlying difficulties use technology irresponsibly, it’s a means for them to alienate others (political disputes, anyone?) or lose focus on their face-to-face loved ones in favor of their online group. I’m not condemning mobile devices or social media; rather, like with online purchasing, I’m pointing out that this concept might end up bringing harm to those who misuse it or those who misuse it.
9. We don’t have to drop off film for processing
Does anyone recall Fotomats? If so, you were most likely a child of the 1980s. These were filmed processing kiosks where you could drop off your film and pick up the processed images the next day. I haven’t seen one of these in years, and while photo film does exist and can be processed elsewhere, it’s normally done by professional photographers or photography hobbyists. I’ve been taking pictures with digital cameras and my smartphone for years; they’re easy to save on my hard drive, they’re automatically backed up on my phone, and I can see how the shots turned out instantaneously.
But… there was something lovely about dropping off the film and knowing it will be ready the next day (unlike in today’s instant gratification environment, where we grow impatient if something isn’t available right away). There was a sense of expectancy, as well as the hope that all of the photographs would come out okay. We were more patient. And we didn’t spend time taking pictures of ourselves, and the ones we preserved were generally worth keeping.
Back in the 1980s, I probably took one-tenth the number of photos I do now, and while hard drive space is cheap and plentiful, sorting photos by year or occasion (and, in some cases, who of my children is in the shot) is time-consuming. I rarely discard digital images unless they’re blurry or of extremely bad quality, so there’s more of a “quantity over quality” factor now, whereas it used to be the opposite, at least for me.
10. We don’t ever see payphones or telephone booths around anymore
My elementary school had a beautiful old (for the time) payphone with three slots at the top for coin feeding: a nickel slot, a dime slot, and a quarter slot. Putting money in and hearing the electronic tones as the coins registered (I believe it was only a dime to make a call) was like witnessing a magic trick. Payphones and telephone booths, once a familiar sight for Superman fans, have now gone the way of the passenger pigeon; the last one I saw was in Europe this summer. We only make phone calls with our cellphones; no searching for cash, dealing with missing phone books or discovering broken public phones. My children will
But… well, there isn’t one. Everyone is better off with payphones and phone booths banished to the dust heaps of history (even phone carriers are likely generating more money off smartphone sales/data plans than they ever did with coin-operated telephones). Some advancements are unarguable.