This is going to alienate or, at the very least, strongly annoy many of the people around me, including my closest friends, but I feel strongly enough about the continued stupification (I know it’s not a word, shut up) of the human race that I feel the need to attack one of its most prominent and well-advertised causes: smart phones. As the blog title suggests, I’m not a big fan. Just as many farmers and hunters lamented the onset of the industrial revolution, I lament the onset of the so-called information revolution. My basic premise for this seemingly unwarranted hatred of an inanimate object is that lessens our desire to learn as it further abstracts our lives away from any real purpose. We have grown further and further away from our food sources and means of survival and now we are growing further and further away from our ability to think.
I suppose one of my gripes with what is really just a portable internet machine is its name: smart phone. Smart phone? Who exactly is it supposed to make smart? Certainly not its users, who really needs no longer think about anything, but simply needs to push a few buttons on a simple and easy to use (and these are often stressed in marketing campaigns) interface and voila: they have the measurement of the largest penis on a Saint Bernard as recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records. [This isn’t a real statistic, but if it were I’d have my money on Beethoven for being the owner of said genitalia (with balls like those…) ] Of course, it isn’t just useless information that floods the internet, although that is largely the case. There are also apps. Loads and loads of apps. Companies trip over each other clamoring that they have more apps than their competitors- which is just… just peachy, really. In particular, Apple’s claims that “there’s an app for just about everything” begs the question: well, what are we supposed to do? If the shared consciousness that is the internet and its crony, the smart phone, have taken all thought-related activity and compiled it into an easy-to-use electromechanical extension of our bodies, I suppose all that is left for us is the physical realm. Considering that the majority of the developed world spends life in front of a computer with the physical activity of a bear in hibernation, this is a sad reality.
This may seem silly, and I normally don’t watch television programs like this (really, I don’t), but The Outer Limits dealt with this very issue in the episode entitled Stream of Consciousness. The episode is set in the future, exact date unspecified. Every member of the human race (save one, of course) has a neural implant that provides them a direct up link to the “stream” – effectively the internet – at all times. If anyone needs any information, they need only think about it and there they have it. This is really not so far fetched. Save for a few finger strokes this is exactly where we find ourselves now. Of course, the “stream” becomes sentient and all hell breaks looks as it misinterprets its original purpose, but that is not the point. The point is well articulated in the closing narration, which I think, like all narration, should have been spoken by Mr. Morgan Freeman:
We make tools to extend our abilities, to further our reach, and fulfill our aspirations. But we must never let them define us. For if there is no difference between tool and maker, then who will be left to build the world?
Aha! Preachy low-budget television actor for the win! Who is left to build the world, indeed, when every design program has an auto-generate option? Who will be the lawyers and politicians of the future when every argument is settled with a simple “I’ll just look it up on Wikipedia”? Who will be the next great thinkers and innovators be when every iPhone has an app to calculate the speed of the Earth’s rotation by date? Obviously, someone is creating these apps so some knowledge exists, some basic kernel, a select few who are still able to ask “why?” The problem is that, as more and more people are instantaneously given the “what”, the raw information about anything and everything, they will cease to ask why and simple accept the world for what it is. Remember, knowledge is not understanding and, while we build knowledge, we weaken understanding. If we take for granted every bit of information available to us, why even bother understanding?
One aspect of the smart phone that particular gets my goat – damn, that was my only goat! – is that it has removed the need for much human interaction, interaction of which many of us are in dire need. Do we really need more excuses to recede into ourselves? Map apps (mapps?) no longer make it necessary to ask for directions. If gender stereotypes are any indication, this should make men very happy. It makes me, however, sad. There is something desperately intimate about asking someone for direction. It’s an implicit admission that you don’t know where you are as you place your life, or at least the next few minutes of it, into the hands of a complete stranger. On a very basic level, this is bonding. Now no one asks me for directions, so I’m forced to talk to the lamp post in front of my apartment as I wave my hands in explanation of how to get to Market Street, while homeless people shuffle by muttering something about crazy hipsters. Even that most rudimentary and passive form of interaction, the television, has lost much of its market to the iPhone and its clones. I remember waking up and watching the weatherman spew his random meteorological predictions and, even though I know that he was simply reading off of a page, there was something strangely reassuring about having seemingly look me in the eyes as they talked to me. There was recognition at least, some semblance of human closeness. Now people get upset when the layout changes on theweathernetwork.com or cnn.com.
When I think of smart phones and the mounds of information that they make conveniently available to all indiscriminately, I think of Bill Gates excitedly touting the potential of The Information Superhighway. Perhaps these early pioneers should have considered the impact seemingly infinite data streams would have on the human race before diving in like kids with new Lego sets, eager to go play with their shiny new toys.
Of course I say all this while I blog, on the internet. The irony is not lost on me. Chances are that it’s not lost on you, either, kind reader. I know that intelligent people still exist out there; this is my strange and convoluted way of reaching out towards that dwindling population of thinking people.
Or maybe I’m just pissed off because I don’t want to pay $30 for a data plan. Who knows? Not me – I know nothing, remember?