My Thoughts After Having a Smart Phone for 1 Year
About a year ago, I finally caved in and tried out the smart phone world. For long before that, I adamantly opposed smart phones and many of these ‘technological conveniences’ as I only saw the negative in them. The negative effects that they have on social situations I mean. I even went so far as to write an article on Reasons not to travel with a smart phone. I know that a lot of people disagreed with the points that I made in that article and within reason, I can agree with some of them. It was not really meant to be an article discouraging smart phone usage, but more in just getting you to think about what a smart phone can potentially do in your life (or you can let it do…).
I was very happy and content with my flip phone days and sometimes daydream about having an old brick Nokia 3360 that most of us started with again so that I would be limited to texting, calling, and of course playing Snake on a green screen. Those were the days. In essence, since my phones at that time weren’t so ‘smart’, I paid a lot more attention to other things. In fact, I was one of those people who would get the funny stares as I walked into the cell phone store every 4 years when I was due for an upgrade and request a phone with the least capabilities. People simply couldn’t understand why I wanted a phone that could only text and call and couldn’t browse the internet. Some providers even told me that they didn’t carry those kinds of phones anymore.
The things that have always bothered me about smart phones are the people who become addicted to them or that allow them to control their lives. I have heard frightening statements in the past such as, “I couldn’t live without my smartphone” or “I don’t know what I would do without my smart phone”. I, thankfully, do believe that I know what I would do without a smart phone, and aspire to not have one again in the future. However, having a smart phone for the last year has made me question the validity of owning one all together. I think on a societal level, we need to find some healthy balance.
Some of the things that I have noticed and dislike about having a smart phone
Since getting a smart phone, I have noticed some annoying ticks that I have developed. They aren’t just things that I do, but things that it seems nearly all smart phone owners develop with time.
1.) Excessive checking of emails and social medias. I really have no need to check emails even half as much as I do now that I have a smart phone. I find myself at every break checking my emails and occasionally popping on social media to see if anyone sent a message or there’s any activity in the online world. It is pathetic really. Every time I do and receive nothing, I feel worse about doing it because I know that it is stupid and that I only do it because I can. For more perspective on this, I can recommend listening to this interview with Simon Sinek.
2.) Not being resourceful. I’ve always been a firm believer in doing things yourself to learn the process. One way this applies to traveling is going out and exploring and learning a city by exploring it by foot, bus, train, or whatever other method comes to thought. However, instead of doing my typical exploring I often find myself looking up directions or finding train routes instead of figuring them out the normal way: i.e. looking at a map, asking someone. After all, it is just as simple as pulling out your phone. Does WikiPedia count?
3.) Not being as social as I could be. I consider myself to be a pretty social person overall. I do have my instances where I enjoy a walk solo, but most of the time I enjoy at least being around other people, even if it is just to do some people watching. However, one thing that I have noticed smart phone owners, including myself, will tend to resort to scrolling in their phones before talking to the person next to them. I dislike this.
4.) Too much music and ear buds. I have not been a fan of using headphones for a long time. I think that we use them too much, but I have become accustomed to using them now with my smart phone. I often use them for phone conversations, music, or to do things on certain apps. It has become a bad habit.
5.) People’s expectations for you. People have way too many expectations for being able to reach you now. If you do not call someone back or immediately respond to a text message then people can assume the worst. Like perhaps, you have fallen off the map. I do not overly enjoy the idea that everyone expects you to be available constantly. This can happen in your personal and professional relationships. But, there are two sides to every coin.
Things that I like about having a smart phone
Being that I am someone who enjoys languages and following international politics, I cannot hide the fact that there are some things that I really find convenient about my smart phone.
1.) Language learning apps. There is beyond a doubt a huge advantage to language learners with smart phones. There are hundreds if not thousands of language applications available for people. From big names like Duolingo, to smaller one-time apps, I find the amount of them to be amazing. For example, I have found one app that has the Farsi alphabet and numbers. I am frequently able to flip through the alphabet and numbers for practice. When I get a few minutes on the metro, I can just pull up the app and study.
2.) Multiple international keyboards. One of the nice things about typing in different languages is having the proper keyboard available. Anyone who has written in multiple languages before knows that without the proper keyboard, writing in a foreign language can be quite annoying, especially if you want to write with good grammar. With my smart phone, I have been able to add at least 5 keyboards that I am able to use as necessary. Unfortunately, Apple has not made a keyboard for Farsi though. Please get on that Apple!
3.) News. I love the fact that I can get caught up on the headlines of international politics within just a few minutes and then share the most important ones on my Twitter account. I frequently use multiple news sources to get an idea of what is going on in the world from a few different perspectives.
4.) Communication. One of the beauties of having a smart phone is the idea of communicating a world away with little effort. You essentially have all the benefits of a computer in your hand. My favorites are the ability to use programs like Skype, Viber, or WhatsApp. Communication has never been easier.
5.) All its SMARTNESS. I don’t really use all the gizmos and gadgets that I could with a smart phone. I don’t allow notifications from anything but news. Although it can be used to obsession, the idea that anytime you don’t know something you can just look it up on your phone is incredible. There’s never been a time where more information has been so readily available to people worldwide, unfortunately we just don’t always use it for good learning purposes.
6.) Pictures/Video. I also like that idea that I can take decent quality pictures and video as necessary. I never liked lugging a big camera around everywhere I go just for a random snap shot or two, so the idea of having one in my pocket is nice, especially a multifunctional one.
Benefits and drawbacks of traveling with a smart phone
There are both positives and negatives about traveling with a smart phone. Should you? Well the choice is ultimately yours. Most people will choose to do so, and rightfully so as they are quite convenient to have on the road.
The main ones
1.) Pictures and video
2.) No need for a computer (unless of course you blog) so less weight to carry
3.) Keeping in touch with family and friends easily
4.) Recording notes and directions
5.) Making good use of free WiFi to find new things
Just a few, that are of course controversial to many
1.) Chance of losing it or having it stolen. As a friend put it well the other day “Having a smart phone with you all day is like walking around with a $500 bill in your pocket.” Smart phone thefts are on the rise in most major cities and there is a huge underground market for them.
2.) Focusing too much on staying in touch with home and online life. I think that there is such a thing as being over connected with home while traveling. Part of traveling is to get out of your comfort zone and experience things. Not to check to see how many likes the new picture you posted got. Let’s face it, if you bring the technology with you, you’ll likely check your social media accounts more than you need to.
3.) Being less sociable. Sometimes the more connected we think we are, the less we actually are in the situations that matter the most. There have been some times where I have seen people sitting together at a table and just shook my head in awe. One time specifically, I was in a cafeteria in a building and witnessed a table of 4 people eating lunch ‘together’. Not one of them was talking and all of there faces were attached to their phones. That is a sad existence.
The Goods and Bads on a Societal Level: Is it worth it?
On a societal and macro level, I do not know if smart phones have been holistically good. Although, before the flood of people who would say that technology has been undeniably good for us, please hear me out. I am not talking about the potential benefits and advantages to smart phone ownership. I am talking about how they actually get used on a societal level.
Since long before I had a smart phone there have been some things that I just loathed about smart phone owner’s practices. I know that there are tons of benefits to combat this, but these are things that I hope all smart phone owners think about.
1.) Lack of manners. It seems that many people have forgotten the use of manners. Smart phones, or at least the activity of them, often take precedent now when in social settings. Example: You go to dinner with some friends, and all of them have their smart phones on the table. If one of them receives a text or a call, they immediately stop conversation and go to it.
The truth is, I think many polite people have just forgotten that this isn’t nice. I do my best to not use my phone when out with friends. This also goes for people talking about personal conversations in public. News flash: No one wants to hear about your drama, ability to excessively use profanity, or the recent hookup you had. Please keep those things to yourself. Also, that music you are playing on your speaker…
2.) Texting instead of calling. One of my favorite comedy clips with respect to this topic is by Aziz Ansari. His joke, Texting with girls, is funny, but it is also sad because it is so true. It seems that if you call someone now, unless you are really close (family, friend, etc) or the call is expected, it can be awkward. I still prefer to call most people, but people hardly answer their phones anymore.
3.) Over stimulation and lack of resourcefulness. I worry about children who have always known a life with a cell phone or ‘smart technology’. I’ve noticed with some of the younger children I have seen with smart phones or access to them that they have become less able to pay attention to other things. Additionally, instead of learning how to do something they will often just pull out the smart phone and look it up.
4.) Social anxiety. There are a lot of people who use smart technologies as a crutch, which can lead to more social anxieties. I’ve read a few articles about this, but there are actually studies that have been produced about smart phone usage. One such that may be interesting to you is this here.
5.) Awkwardness of conversation. I have only been living in New York City for a short time, but there is something strange about the ‘smart phone generation’. People just aren’t able to talk to their neighbor any more. Maybe some people are open to it, but I find that most people on the metro tend to opt out of conversation while traveling via metro. They’ll look directly into their phones and nowhere else until their stops. Or, their music will be turned up so loud that you can hear it from a few feet away. It seems that if you attempt to talk to someone, then you must be crazy. Perhaps, it is just the big city thing.
6.) Hazardous use. From texting while driving to text walking, cell phone related injuries are on the rise. I know that in some of the cities I’ve been to such as Barcelona, they have started to put notices on the ground giving a statistic for amount of people killed or injured annually by walking across the street in traffic. Obviously, not all of these are cell phone related, but I’d say some are for sure. Many US states and even other countries have put bans on using cellular devices while driving. All for good reason. You can’t simply hold the attention of a cell phone screen and the road. It is tempting, but best and safest to wait. One example of the severity of this is, if you are driving around 70 miles per hour (likely an average speed on US interstates), then you will pass roughly 102 feet by looking down for a second. Imagine three seconds? That’s almost more than an American football field. It seems a lot can happen in that distance.
7.) All the obsession with one’s self. Is it just me or are ‘selfies’ getting out of hand? I thought they used to be a joke, but now they are like second nature. I am increasingly amazed at the fact of how many people use media outlets to take pictures of themselves. Sure, within reason, I understand if you are in the middle of a beautiful place with no one around to take a picture or in a special moment with some friends, but is it necessary to take multiple pictures of yourself daily or take a snapshot of yourself when you are in the club? Don’t get me started on the duck face… Am I wrong and just see this from a negative light? If so, please teach me about another perspective.
The benefits to society
There are really an endless number of benefits to using a smart phone. It is more about how you use it, which brings me to my next point.
The Idea of Personal Responsibility and Accountability
In the words of Tyler Durden in a powerful scene in the movie Fight Club, “The things you own end up owning you.”
After a deep discussion with a friend the other day, I came to some realizations when speaking with him (Thanks VJ). I don’t think that it is about rejecting these new technologies or going against the grid, but we have to consider the personal responsibility of having these gadgets. Even myself lately, I have been in deep reflection about the things that I dislike about owning my smart phone and how I can be a better steward of it.
We have to remember that these are only tools. In the world of manual labor, every good worker know that tools can be used both correctly and incorrectly. When used incorrectly, people not only become less responsible and could even get hurt. In the technology world, we have to remember our reason for needing or wanting this ‘tool’. It is a convenience that we are able to afford, but we have to remember that there is a lot of life to be had without it. The majority of the people in the world don’t have them and get along alright. In fact, all the people prior to the invention of the smart phone, did alright as well. We are here after all.
This idea of personal responsibility and accountability with respect to your possessions is something that I think should be considered by all of us on a regular basis. Smart phones are a convenience and a luxury, but nothing more. We shouldn’t idolize their existence.
A Challenge for YOU and I!
A friend of mine mentioned something the other day that I really like, the concept of: a technology sabbath, or tech-sabbath. It is apparently something that has been around for a while, but I have never heard of it before. Taking one day a week to not use technology, mainly a smart phone in this case, to prove to yourself that you know how to live without it.
I did similar things long before I even had a smart phone. When I was studying for my undergraduate degrees, I used to leave my cell phone at home when I went to class. I would only check it once I arrived back. Then I would respond to calls and messages accordingly. I simply wasn’t available to be reached while in class. I really enjoyed when I did that. During that time, I would also leave my phone in my car when I went into social events and restaurants. In order to prevent myself from using it unnecessarily.
We need to learn to build separation from these things so that they do not transfer from useful tools to obsessions.
Furthermore, when out with friends, family, and/or significant others why not prove to them that they mean more than your supposed ‘instant connection to the world’? Do you really need your smart phone in the movie theater? Must you carry it around in the grocery store? At least we can do these some of the times. If we don’t, or worse off, “can’t”, then we should really reevaluate our value systems in life.
I occasionally will meet someone who still does not have a smart phone, and when I do I try to envision their lives. How things would be different if I didn’t have a smart phone again. Some things would be better, but would some be worse? It is hard to negate the use of smart phones without commending them on all the benefits that they can offer a responsible user and society.
You might ask me why I’d want to write an article about smart phones or technology on a website that is supposed to be about cultures and the world. Well, simply put, I think that social interaction is the most beautiful aspect of traveling. Without that interaction, there isn’t much point of seeing the world. People are what make culture, and getting to know them is what makes traveling great, at least that is my motivation. My purpose of writing this was not in any way to say that you cannot benefit from using new technologies, but more to make you realize, or at least think about, that they aren’t everything.
As smart phones and other new technologies advance, I think that we need to be mindful not lose site of the old way of doing things. Don’t forget that you can meet a stranger walking by you. You can find your way without looking up the directions. Selfies aren’t important. Be the master of your technologies and don’t forget to keep yourself in check.
I’ve enjoyed having a smart phone, but also realized in some ways how I have allowed it to control me. I need to personally be a better and more responsible user.
What has been your experience with a smart phone? Do you agree with me, or my thoughts? Or do you think that I am wrong? I would really enjoy hearing feedback from you about things that they you have noticed in your personal life since purchasing a smart phone, both good and bad. Also, do you miss your life before you had a smart phone?