“We live in a globally connected world.” We hear this all the time. It was not long ago when we were connected to something else, the world right around us. I remember the warm mid-Atlantic summers as a kid. I would wake up and change from my Star Trek pajamas to my plaid pants, with the blue sewed on knee patches, and a rugby shirt. Then off to the kitchen for my favorite Saturday morning breakfast, a bowl of Captain Crunch and a glass of Tang. After breakfast, I headed out on my hand painted metallic purple bike, with the blue banana seat, for a day at the tree fort in the woods near my home (no helmet by the way). There were no cell phones, just good neighbors who looked out for each other. I felt connected, to my friends, to my neighborhood, to my world. My friends and I would spend the entire day outside. When it was time to come home, my mother would use her mom-megaphone (her voice) to yell out the front door that it was time for me and my siblings to come home for dinner. If I was out of mom-megaphone range, one of my friends, or a neighbor mom, would let me know it was time to get home or risk not having dinner. Communication wasn’t elegant, but it was simple and we never had to worry about signal strength or battery life.
Just 25 years later, we have this amazing, compact device called a smartphone. And there seems to be no limit to what it can do. “Beam me up Siri!” The capability of the smartphone goes beyond anything we imagined on Star Trek (well maybe not space travel and transporters, but you get my point). It still acts as a phone, a speaker phone, a video phone, and even a mom-megaphone (with her own unique ringtone). The smartphone has become an indispensable tool that we carry with us wherever we go. Consider just a few functions it performs beyond being a phone; radio, iPod, camera, video camera, video player, calculator, flashlight, calendar, to-do list, dictaphone, email, rolodex, internet, credit card, clock, alarm clock, stop watch, fitness tracker, MiFi, ebook, book store, social media, messaging, GPS, language translator, compass, weather radar, boarding pass, banking, and if I set it on vibrate, I can use it as a massager for my neck. I can talk to it and it will respond. While it shows little emotion, at least I know it’s always there for me. With all this capability, I have to ask myself, am I smart enough for my smartphone?
My mom and my aunt recently got smartphones and had a funny experience. The first thing my mother did was program in her contacts. Then she decided to call her sister. When she selected my aunt’s number from the contact list, the phone initiated the call. My mom expected to see a green and red button. Seeing only a red button, she pushed it and inadvertently hung up on my aunt. My aunt did the same thing back to my mom. They did this back and forth several times before resorting to a land line call. They were both outsmarted by their brand new smartphones! Not long ago, I received the following text from a recently divorced guy that works for me; “Love you”, followed by an emoji blowing a kiss. To my relief, I received a follow up 10 minutes later that read, “Oops, that was for my daughter.” Whew, what a relief! That could have led to some awkward conversations at the water cooler! It took me weeks to figure out how to lock the screen from rotating, then it took me several more weeks to figure out how to unlock it! As for Siri, I can’t tell you how many times I had to raise my voice at her when she would not do what I commanded. But she always maintains a calm, pleasant voice through all our arguments.
This high tech device that is designed to improve our lives can actually become a point of frustration and a major distraction from life if we let it. It is blamed for serious car accidents, the development of ADHD in kids, and a major disruptor to quality family time. But it can also keep us connected in ways we never thought possible. Just last Christmas, through the miracle of facetime, my daughter in Arizona helped me shop for gifts in Colorado. As a result, I was able to pick out the perfect ski jacket for my son and sweater for my wife. I remain a big believer in technology and the endless possibilities that it brings when we are smart enough to use it in the right way, in the right amount, and at the right time. We are the masters of technology, but if we cannot control it, it will master us.
“It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want.” – Spock