Take Your New iPhone and Shove It

The term "smart phone" is a misnomer. How technology is making us dumber and anti-social.

Smart phones are stupid.

There, I said it. I feel better already.

With the quiet efficiency of killer drones, smart phones have destroyed any remnants of that quaint, old-fashioned notion called group social interaction. You know, the kind where numerous humans occupy the same space together, by choice.

You’d have to be Helen Keller not to have noticed how smart phones have insidiously stilled the way in which people relate, or more precisely, do not relate to each other. No offense to Helen Keller, but to me, the silence is deafening.

Example 1: Every morning as I wait in an absurdly long line at the campus Starbucks, the only mortal sound is that of baristas repeating orders for double lattes and the like. Everyone else is narcotized on their smart phones. Gives a whole new meaning to “the silent majority.”

Example 2: At my gym, the friendly buzz of jock camaraderie has all but disappeared, replaced by members engaging with their smart phones by themselves. Moreover, the smarties hog the equipment, making others wait as they get lost in smart phone-ville.

Example 3: In my classes, smart phones are banned. Still, students often sneak peeks at their screens instead of participating in discussions. I make it a point to call on such students, who must endure the embarrassment of getting busted. They don’t seem to care. Smart phones are like crack.

And in restaurants? Don’t get me started.

In restaurants, Vanity Fair’s Michael Carl plays the ‘phone stack’ game. Here’s how its works, according to a New York Times piece last week on the growing trend of carving out digital-free zones in one’s life.

When Carl goes out to dinner with friends, they all pile their phones in the middle of the table. First one to look at his device before the end of the meal must pick up the check.

Brilliant. Nothing like the prospect of a huge tab to force friends to engage with one another in the moment, instead of put the group conversation on pause to check out what has happened over the last two minutes in one’s virtual life.

The story drew more than 200 comments, almost all of them positive.

Believe me, I get it. Just last week, during an otherwise pleasant lunch at a South Street restaurant with my new editor for this very site, he disappeared—metaphorically—for almost 10 minutes on a business call. He said it was quite important, and he did apologize.

Still, I couldn’t help thinking that this was the first time he and I had ever met, or had spoken to each other, for that matter. Why couldn’t he have waited until we had finished lunch? Would his important business situation have gone anywhere in the ensuing 10 minutes? Short of an emergency, of course not.

Aside from being hopelessly old school, I choose to stick with my dumb phone for another reason. With very little prompting, I could easily become one of those people I’m railing against. I, too, would not be able to resist the siren song of those bells and whistles and killer apps.

My wife thinks I’m a few fries short of a Happy Meal. She loves her iPhone and says she doesn’t know how she lived without it.

What she doesn’t realize is that every time she shows me another of her device’s magic tricks, it turns into a half-hour reverie-cum-sales demonstration. She can’t help herself. It’s as if her life begins and ends with that phone.

Maybe it does. Maybe I’m just in denial of my inner smart phone. But at least for now, I’m sick of the silent universe that surrounds me, and of which I am not a part.