Smartphones Are Turning Us Into Idiots

Are smartphones going to kill us? Not with brain cancer, but by our own carelessness.

The System, By Rosscott

Everyone I know has a smartphone. Some people I know have more than one. Our need for constant internet access, email, instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook, and texting has gotten to the point where it's actually distressing to people to turn the phone off and let the world go for a while.

How did this happen? Ten years ago we had separate devices for phones, PDAs, and mp3 players. The internet wasn't something you had on the road, unless you were willing to pay through the nose for it. Your phone could make and receive calls, you could send and receive (costly) SMS messages and the occasional email.

We did this to ourselves, and we keep asking for more. A combination of the next new shiny, the need/desire for more capability, and convergence of devices and services pushed the mobile phone in a direction that the original portable cellphone manufacturers never even conceived of. The Star Trek handheld communicator, so recognizable from the TV show of the 1960s, served one purpose: to talk to someone far away. It didn't even have video communication, just audio.

These days, we have video communication, we can surf the internet, listen to our music, play games, read books, watch videos and dozens of other things. But this functionality has come at a heavy price.

There was a time when the only dangerous thing about a cellphone when driving was that taking one hand off of the wheel and talking to someone was distracting, and certainly was the cause of numerous accidents. People on cellphones could annoy others in movie theaters, in restaurants, pretty much anywhere that one would expect everyone to be quiet.

Now it's much worse. There are people getting killed in car accidents because of texting while driving. Something that usually requires both hands and visual attention--the two primary factors necessary for driving. The smartphone has become such a distraction that people are dying because they needed to update their status on Facebook. I am just as guilty as everyone else. While I do not drive, the moment I get off of the train I have my BlackBerry in my hand, checking into my location on FourSquare. I might be sending an SMS message to my wife telling her that I'm going to be arriving at her office soon.

While I do make a good faith effort to remain aware of the world around me, there are occasions where I just barely miss knocking someone over because I wasn't looking where I was going. I do stop playing with my phone when I am crossing the street, but every morning I see half a dozen other people just moving with the crowd, not even looking up from their tiny screens.

This needs to stop. We're turning into a world of inconsiderate, oblivious idiots, more interested in what's on a tiny handheld device than what's right in front of our faces. If an oncoming car happens to be what's right in front of our faces, we would have no one to blame but ourselves when the inevitable happens.

Maybe someday we can get rid of the smartphone. I would be completely fine with an old-style cellphone that could act as a wifi access point and had 3g/4g network access. Have bluetooth so I could have an in-ear headset; better to look like I'm talking to myself than to be a flattened stain on the pavement because I wasn't looking where I was going.

As for the rest of all the bells and whistles on a smartphone? Put them on a tablet, and keep it in my bag. I do not NEED to be looking at it while I'm walking down the street. Run music through the bluetooth headset from the tablet. It doesn't need to be in your hands, and some bluetooth headsets already have mp3 player controls.

There's a reason there are more laws being created to make texting while driving illegal. Using a cellphone without a handsfree headset or speakerphone while driving is already illegal. Even so, people are still getting injured and killed because they can't be bothered to pay attention to anything outside their personal bubble.

If other folks want to "burst their bubble", fine. I'll be keeping my eyes open and running for cover when I see them coming.

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