We’re getting smarter every day, right?
It has been two days since something truly terrible happened to me. I left home without my mobile phone. Everything’s OK now, we’ve been reunited. I’ve recovered from the trauma, thanks for your concern. But for approximately one hour, I was out of contact with the entire world and it was a very frightening experience.
During that one hour I did speak to actual human beings but I couldn’t tap their faces to have them reveal pictures of kittens. I tried but it didn’t work. And I had a very profound thought: this is what it must have been like back in the Dark Ages when there were dragons and stuff; when warring families competed for control of a spiky metal throne; and when there were no WhatsApp groups with hundreds of messages that you can’t be bothered to read but you don’t want to leave the group because then they’ll think you’re arrogant. That’s right, it was just like being back in the 1990s.
During that one hour without my smartphone I was a stupid person because I was unable to access Google. Google makes me smart, right? Just now a fragment of an old song came into my head but I couldn’t remember the name of the band so I turned to Google. The song was Making Plans for Nigel by the band XTC and it reached number 17 in the U.K. charts in 1979. I am now smarter. Right?
Maybe or maybe not but it surely brings us all together because now we can be in contact with people and ideas from around the world at any time. Right? I was at a restaurant on Sunday night, which is when families eat together, because families that eat together stay together. There were four families at four tables and none of the family members were talking to each other. They were all on their phones “talking” to other people. The restaurant was silent except for the sound of people asking for the Wi-Fi password. I was going to take a photo of them all and post it on Instagram but then I got a message on WhatsApp and I got distracted and forgot all about it.
I can’t find any figures on smartphone usage around the world. There are figures on per capita smartphone ownership. According to a Pew Research Center survey in 2015, South Korea led the world with 88 percent owning a smartphone. Malaysia was at number eight with 65 percent, which was a leap from 34.5 percent just two years earlier. Ownership is one thing but actual usage is another matter.
A couple of years ago I was in Istanbul (population 14 million) and I thought I’d take a look at my Waze app. In Kuala Lumpur (population six million), you’ll find 25,000 people using Waze to help them find a path through the terrible traffic. In Istanbul, there were 25 people using Waze. This is flimsy anecdotal evidence upon which to build an argument but perhaps there are cultural differences in the way smartphones are used and therefore, the different levels of smartphone addiction.
Smartphone addiction is an epidemic taking over the planet (except perhaps for Turkish drivers) and I readily admit to being an addict. The addiction’s side-effects include being distracted, only ever having conversations about re-posted stories you’ve seen on Facebook and saying things like, “I just want to watch this video about the Roman army and then I’ll do it, OK!?”
The Internet is great and smartphones are great. I feel safer having one with me when I leave my home so I don’t want to turn the clock back to the Dark Ages of the 1990s when the only thing available on the early Internet was buffering … buffering. But it is a distraction that perhaps leads to an accumulation of trivia that we often mistake for knowledge. If only there was a way to take a holiday from the smartphone without feeling the panic that we might be missing out on something.
You have to switch off your phone when you’re on a plane. You feel the anticipation for the destination but it’s still several hours away. You leaf through the in-flight magazine, check out the movies and then settle down to watch that Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy that didn’t get great reviews but still sounds like it might be fun. The darkness of the cabin and the sound of the engines give you a cloak of privacy and you’ll watch the movie. During the flight itself is one of the few places where one can take a holiday from the distractions of the smartphone.