Smart Phones as Transformative Devices
August 8, 2011 1 Comment
I live in Southern California, where, at any point in time, about 1 out of every 2 people are staring at their phone. As a long time iPhone owner, I have to admit that I also fall into that category. Smart phones are simply so enticing – camera, stock ticker, weather forecast, stored music, videos, and photos, GPS, maps, email, texting, twitter, facebook, games, radio rebroadcasts, internet, newpapers, webcams, and so much more. What’s not to love?
The internet is often hailed as a transformative invention, which it certainly was. But it kind of pales in comparison to that Droid in your pocket. After all, the smart phone includes the internet at your fingertips, which, by itself is transformative in how people interact. Instead of having to call your buddy after you get home and look up the factoid that you argued about at the bar, now you can settle immediately. But, as the web app is just one of the thousands of apps that can be stored on the phone, it stands to reason that transformative nature of the smart phone can be much more than the web.
For one thing, there is the impact on existing products and services. Who needs GPS anymore, when you have an iPhone? Who needs to hear terrestrial radio stations in your car when you can stream Pandora channels tailored to your interests. Pagers? – a thing of the past. With all of the market data available at your fingertips and mobile trading easily accessible, do we need the financial section of the newspaper any more? Or stockbrokers? While consulting at a large toy manufacturer recently, it was observed that people use smart phones to comparison shop on the fly. You’re standing in front of a camera at an electronic superstore and in seconds you can determine if their competitor sells it cheaper. Macy’s doesn’t have your size of that perfect shirt you found in the store? Check online and find out who does. I’m less inclined to stay at home to watch a game when I know I can keep track of my team at any time. Don’t need to carry a pen to write anything down when I can take notes on my phone. Shazam has saved me tons of time trying to figure out what that song was that I just heard on the radio.
But it’s not all good.
How many deaths are attributed to texting and driving? Reuters estimates over 2000 per year and growing. Celebrity plastic surgeon Dr. Frank Ryan drove off the Pacific Coast Highway while texting about his dog last year.
Still, these are all relatively small impacts to our society. The real transformation is in terms of socialization. At a glance, you can determine who among your friends is nearby where you are dining or drinking, potentially enabling slightly higher socialization. But, to come back to my original point, what about all of those people starting at their phones all day? If you are at a restaurant with your family or friends, but are obsessed with twittering, you aren’t really getting much out of the social outing. When was the last time you made eye contact with someone walking down the street? It’s kind of difficult if one or both people are staring at the device in their hand. Maybe you just walked past the person that could become the love of your life. You’ll never know it. Maybe you just passed a former colleague who knows of the perfect new job for you. Opportunity missed. I even think that people are losing the ability to think. Some of the best daydreaming, the best brainstorms, occur when you are out and about and simply thinking. That doesn’t happen much anymore. Standing at the curb waiting for the walk sign? Might as well check email. Waiting for an elevator? Might as well see what’s going on on Facebook. Sitting at a stoplight? Might as well see if anyone responded to my last tweet.
We are doing less reading, more microblogging. Less thinking, more context switching. One has to assume that this will impact ideas, innovation, creativity.
Don’t get me wrong. The last thing I am is a Luddite. I embrace technology, I love technology. For $10 I can download a Groovebox app for my iPad, the equivalent of which used to cost $600 and take up rack space. I can’t wait to “goggle in” in “Snow Crash” parlance, and experience other realities. But I also can’t help but wonder what we have lost whenever I watch two people crossing a street collide mid-intersection because they are both texting.
Oops, got a text message, gotta run…