The Dumbphone

By Dirk de Bekker

Hail this world in which we can do our democratic duty by liking a facebook page about woman-emancipation in Iran, changing our profile picture to support gay marriage, and tweeting away our frustration about the harm Assad is inflicting on his own people. All this can be done from the metaphorical armchair, balancing your smartphone between the palms of your hands.

As you might deduce from the slightly sarcastic tone there, I am not the biggest fan of smartphones. In fact, I consistently refer to the devices as dumbphones. Not because I’m an embittered old man who doesn’t manage to keep up with the technological developments of his time. No. It is for wholly different reasons. Reason number one is hidden in the very name I gave to the smartphone; it makes you dumber rather than more intelligent. You need to find your way? Then let’s certainly use the navigation on the phone! You all of a sudden need to know which Louis of France was decapitated during the French Revolution? Come on, let’s google it! You need to win a music pub quiz? Take out that smartphone, and have it listen to the intros they’re playing!

At this point you might ask yourself: what is he talking about? Doesn’t the smartphone make you smarter in such instances? I argue it does not. For many people it has become such an automatic response to take out their smartphone when some thinking is required on their own part, they don’t even try to remember the route anymore, think about what they read on French history, or carefully listen to music. The smartphone has taken over that function.

On top of that, the smartphone is an inherently anti-social device. After the invasion of laptops into our own bar, people are now actually whatsapping away on their smartphones, while sitting behind their laptop screens. Isn’t the bar meant to be a place where people relax after a long day, enjoying a cold beer while conversing with each other, or where people can sit all by themselves, dwelling on life? In such situations, smartphones function as a defensive wall; when you’re sitting all by yourself, there is always the smartphone that can come to the rescue. It still looks like you have friends that way. But do you really?

You might think that smartphones play an important role in creating democracy, spreading news of revolution, revealing injustice everywhere around this globe. At the same time, however, the smartphone has created a new tyrannical regime that exists in the abstract space of virtual life. It has the power of creating a generation of apathetic people, whose eyes have become hollow and bleak because of staring at that little screen for too long, whose thumbs have grown into the size of baseball bats by scrolling too much, and whose brains have shriveled to the size of rotten strawberries by not thinking on their own anymore.

Well, I’m being realistic. The rise of the smartphone is a fact. But if you use your smartphone, please use it in a smart way.

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