Smartphones for the Stupid

I got one of these incredibly smart phones the other day.  An unbelievably smart phone, but not smart in a neat-slacks-and-jacket sort of way or a tidy-haircut way, or even a well-turned-out sort of way.   No indeed.  My new Galaxy S4 can achieve things that are currently beyond the power of the Illuminati, Starfleet Command, Bruce Lee and the Ancients all put together, or so I’m led to understand by my children.

galaxy s4

Old!, they mock when I mutter curses at my new smart phone, or ask them how to get rid of the silly screen saver, and yet, my children conveniently overlook my oldness when they want something complicated fixed on their laptops, a glitch beyond their callow knowledge, something that only a member of my Guild might perhaps fettle.  I’m not old when they need to recover lost data from that crashed hard drive, or when they can’t get Wi-Fi on their netbooks.  I’m not old when a picture needs to be Photoshopped.  I’m not old when a car won’t start.

But how easy it is to mock the elderly when a phone is involved.  I don’t do phones.  I just don’t.  I never did and what’s more, I have no idea why I acquired the world’s most advanced smart phone, since I have not the slightest possibility  of using its full powers.

What do I like about it?

I like its large screen.  I like the fact that it’s big enough for normal adult fingers to type on.  I like the fact that it works as a, well, as a phone.  And that it sends texts and that I can get on the internet with it.  All of that is pretty good with me.

Do I need it to read bar-codes?  Probably not.  Do I need it to check the horizontality of my snooker table?  No, that’s ok, thanks.

Do I need it to be a camera?  Yeah, it’s fine for snaps, but when I want real pictures, I’ll use a real camera.

Do I want it to follow my eyes as I read the screen?  Yes.  About as much as I want it to wake up a warehouse full of robots and take over the Earth.  And I don’t want it watching for hand gestures, facial tics or involuntary sneers.  It’s a machine and I like my machines to be stupid, please, just like me.  I do not want an oblong sentient being living in my pocket — especially not one that’s plugged into a cyber-hive-mind and might just conspire with all its clones to subvert whatever independent existence I have left.  I don’t want my phone to be a character from Battlestar Galactica.

Do I need something that can remotely pilot a drone into Afghanistan and wipe out a village?

I want it to be a phone, and if you’ll forgive the mixed simile, we are not yet Borg.

In a few years, perhaps four or five, will this thing we have in our pockets, uncomfortably close to our vital parts, still be a phone?  What is a phone, even?  Will the law have to be rewritten to prosecute people driving while holding a computer, and does that small word even do justice to the power of the thing we carry around with us?

I don’t think so.  I think the old-fashioned concept of a phone will disappear before long and we’ll be left with a gadget that we use for voice communication as a trivial by-product of its many formidable capabilities.

The yardstick for computing power used to be NASA.  How much more computing power does your washer-dryer have than the machines that calculated the moon landing? Could your cigarette lighter send a man to Mars?

The test for storage in the old days was always scriptural.  This little piece of plastic could hold three hundred copies of the Bible.

Yeah.  Right.  I have a thing in my pocket, the size of half a cigarette, that can store a thousand times as much data as my first desktop computer.  It cost about five euros and if I lose it I’ll just buy another one.  Megabibles.  Gigabibles.  Terabibles.  The new scriptural measure of digital storage.

Do I need a computer in my pocket that’s more powerful than NASA, the KGB and Sauron all sitting down together and agreeing to be clever together?

Smarter than a Jack Russell?  Meaner than a junkyard dog?

What I want is a phone with a big, clear screen.  It needs to do the following: make and take phone calls, make and take text messages, show me the internet.

It does not need to be a camera, a hammer, an assault rifle, an inflatable boat or a frying pan.

That’s it.  Everything else is mission creep.



7 thoughts on “Smartphones for the Stupid

  1. Nicholas Negroponte pointed out in ‘Being Digital’ that soon everything will do everything. By that, he meant that your microwave will have a built-in TV, your fridge will play video games, and your car will surf the internet.

    But, each appliance has just one thing that it does really well. So, your phone majors as a phone, and your washing machine still washes clothes — but each of them will have a ‘vocabulary of functions’ well beyond what is expected. Or needed.

    You can see this already happening with movies. We all watch them, but while couch potatoes use traditionally placed flat-screens, gamers use the X-Box, hackers use monitors, tweens use smartphones, and business travellers use tablets.

    This is why you can safely ignore your phone’s multitude of Swiss Army functions, and not feel like you’re missing out. It is primarily a phone after all.

    My earliest recollection of this kind of mission creep is the digital clock pen — they just did it because they could.


  2. Ah, but the translation app is so hilarious. Hours of fun with your international friends…

  3. I understand your point but I love my phone. I check work email, schedule car pooling, order a 5 Guys burger for pickup for a hungry swimmer, Skype Ireland, watch a show while waiting at appointments, run the family calendar, mobile bank, and read this blog oftentimes:) The smart phone is perfect for my ADD mind.
    What I don’t use it much for is phoning. Texting and all the above mentioned but rarely dialing someone and speaking to them.

  4. Bock.
    You just wrote my life story since last Christmas when my beloved presented me with a smart phone, to say that the relationship has been frought since is an understatement, and thats just with my beloved.

  5. Great article and very funny. Just give me a bleedin phone!

    If I want to photoshop and do video editing then I use a proper computer – one with a big screen and plenty of horsepower

    If I want to do serious photography I will use a proper camera and edit the pics on my proper computer. Seriuously, mobile is cool but for some jobs you can’t beat a good desktop computer.

    Imagine a CAD Engineer working on a tablet?
    Nah. Me neither.

    Interesting to read how people actually use their mobile gadgets and the contexts in which they use them. I am big into users and whay they actually use their puters for

    Web Designers are now having to think ‘mobile first’ and wean themselves off rigid layouts. They are struggling and it’s getting harder. This is weeding the men out from the boys

    Lots of work out there for anyone who understands responsive design techniques

    One design that looks good on phones, desktops and plasma screens.

    Try resizing your browser to see if a site is mobile friendly. It should flow and fit into the available space and look good no matter the browser size

  6. I just found out that Siri stores your voice requests/commands for two years!
    Fuck, can I be done for abusing the shit out of siri?
    I hate the fecken thing.

    When I’m waiting at appointments, I usually speak to whoever else is in the room. You can make new friends this way..apparently

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