"The prophet said..."
An Hour in CrazyWorld

A Week in CrazyWorld

I have resisted the smartphone trend, partly out of general contrary reluctance but more out of parsimony: the dang things are expensive, and they cost a lot to use. I do have a mobile phone. I've had one for something like ten years, since I embarked on a long drive alone and my wife talked me into getting one just in case I needed it, and to let her know I was all right. I've gone through several of them now, because she is rather attached to them and interested in them, and whenever she got an upgrade I got her hand-me-down, up until the point a couple of years ago (I guess) when she got an iPhone. 

For a long time I rarely used the mobile, mainly for simple purposes such as calling home or work to say I'd be late. But of course the usage has slowly grown, and people at work have the number, so that I can be reached if I'm away from home and there's an emergency there. I even learned to send text messages.

Last Christmas we upgraded the iPhone belonging to one of our children, and I got her former model as a hand-me-down. It doesn't function as a phone, because I have no intention of paying the monthly fee for that service. But I took it because in my job I really need to have some familiarity with these things, and this was a way to do so without spending any money. It does have WiFi, so I can do all sorts of things with it if I have that connectivity, including reading my email. Mostly I've used it as an mp3 player.

This week I'm at a technology conference. I've been away for the whole week, and there are a lot of problems that come up at work every day that no one else knows how to handle. So I've been carrying around with me both the ordinary mobile phone, for emergencies, and the iPhone, for less pressing matters that can be handled by email (the convention center has Wi-Fi, naturally). 

It's crazy-making. I sit in a conference session in which someone is talking about some terribly complicated technical matter, and the phone buzzes with a text message. I try to handle whatever problem it presents me with while not completely losing the thread of the talk. If there's a lull I pick up the iPhone and check my email, to see what's transpiring with the problems I've been dealing with that way, and probably encounter a new one. 

My attention span and ability to concentrate, not so hot at best, are so attenuated that there is never a moment when I'm entirely focused on one thing. It doesn't help that being in a large crowd always tends to make introverted me uneasy and distracted. 

When I leave this conference I won't be tied to these devices anymore, but such seems to be a normal way of life for an awful lot of people. Setting aside the introvert part, I can't believe that the adoption of these habits isn't going to have the effect of making people in general less able and/or willing to think deeply and to reflect. I hope they're more resilient than I am.


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I have had a smart phone for a year in August. I've had the internet on my computer at home for around the same time. The worst features are that one is never off the job.

Yes. The good thing, though, is that if you're sitting in a presentation that turned out not to be very relevant, you can read and post comments on a blog.

"I can't believe that the adoption of these habits isn't going to have the effect of making people in general less able and/or willing to think deeply and to reflect."

Nicholas Carr wrote a book about this:


And Tony Esolen, among others, has lamented the decline of contemplation as a normal human activity.

I'm reading Nicholas Carr's The Shadows at the moment. While I'm sympathetic to the main premise, I'm getting more and more irritated by the reams of ignorant nonsense about what things "used to be" like. He's fine on what he remembers, but when he goes back earlier he just seems to be making stuff up.

Just to give a minor example, from what he says about the distractions of digital books vs. "immersion" in classic novels, it's clear he's never read a 19th-century novel as serialised in a 19th-century newspaper.

My mental health suffered just from reading that, Maclin! I feel really stressed when I'm conversing by text with someone who's really fast on it and I'm in a slightly pressured situation. I actually don't like using my mobile for anything but really brief and important messages.

My opinion is that people are better off (I know I am) if we can just concentrate basically on one thing at a time. I do know that people are different and respond differently to various things.

"I can't believe that the adoption of these habits isn't going to have the effect of making people in general less able and/or willing to think deeply and to reflect."

I think it will make people less sane, on the whole, and it's possible that modern people generally are less sane than their forebears already.

I think I would rather have a notepad and pen to occupy myself if I had to endure a long and boring talk. Although daydreaming works really well for me too. :)

Be careful you don't become addicted to your iPhones!

I just finished reading Damian Thompson's The Fix: How addiction is invading our lives and taking over your world, in which he posits that many iPhone users display basic signs of addiction, which he says is the result of deliberate efforts on the part of Apple:

It's significant that a quarter of respondents in [a 2010 Stanford University survey of 200 students] said they found iPhones "dangerously alluring". They are supposed to be. Absolutely nothing is left to chance in the design of these devices. If Apple customers have an embarrassing tendency to anthropomorphise their gadgets, that is because Apple has explored the possibilities of the human mind and body more thoroughly than any of its competitors.

For example, one of the most appealing features of the MacBook laptop line has been the status light, which pulsates gently when the computer is sleeping. Early reviewers cooed over the calming effect of the light, but couldn't put their finger on why it felt so good to watch. Later, it was revealed that Apple had filed for a patent for a sleep-mode indicator that "mimics the rhythm of breathing" and was therefore "psychologically appealing".

This week is the first time I've actually used this thing in the way that most people do, and I can *definitely* see the addictive quality.

Re daydreaming, Louise, that's a habit that helped make me the underachiever that I am, and which I've tried to break. But it may be healthier than constant phone-punching.

And I'm sure Thompson is right that it's all very calculated. Apple is creepy. I'm not sure how much cool rebel appeal they still have but it was always misplaced.

In 1982 my father published an article entitled "Human factors in the design and use of computing languages". I probably ought to get round to reading it.

The addiction thing is one aspect of the devices -- the other one I have problems with is the dependency. Use something enough, esp. something that can answer "all" your questions and do so much for you, and you will become dependent on it, possibly to the point where you feel that you can't do without it. I see this with some of my friends and GPS. Don't worry about directions, maps, etc., because they have GPS. Eventually you forget how to navigate without it, then if there's an error or a glitch, you're screwed. As I've gotten older I've become more conscious of technology's sway, and I find myself avoiding things that are unnecessary and that create dependence.

I think that the iPhone, Smartphone, etc., have the potential to change the culture as much as the automobile did 100 years ago. And not necessarily for the better, if what Carr, et al, are saying is true.

One might easily say about computers and "devices" what B.T.'s character (an auto manufacturer) says here about cars:

‘ ” I’m not sure he’s wrong about automobiles,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization — that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls. I am not sure. But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us suspect. They are here, and almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace. I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can’t have the immense outward changes that they will cause without some inward ones, and it may be that George is right, and that the spiritual alteration will be bad for us. Perhaps, ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn’t be able to defend the gasoline engine, but would have to agree with him that automobiles ‘had no business to be invented.’ ” ‘

from “The Magnificent Ambersons” (1918) by Booth Tarkington.

Other thread wouldn't take my comment so I put it here...

Nichols' films all feature great music. If you like that sort of film you'll want to check this one out:


Yesterday I spent an hour and a half by the side of the highway waiting for a tow truck. I used the time to read a book, plan my grocery list, and brainstorm some ideas for my daughter´s wedding. I am certain that if I had a cell phone, I would have played tetris for 90 minutes.

Smartphones, like the internet generally and TV before that, are undeniably useful in some cases, but in practice, most of the time they´re used for trivialities.

I thought you were going to say you did all those useful things with your iPhone, proving its worth.

I have nothing to add to Anne-Marie's comment except my agreement.

Just in case there was any doubt, I wasn't disagreeing. One does hear people talk of the jillion things they can do with their smartphones, often in the context of "time I would otherwise have wasted." You can read books on one, and I'm sure there are apps for the other two things she mentioned. Personally I am not tempted by games, but I probably would have read and sent email, and browsed the web.

Re that Tarkington quote, Rob, I think you or someone has posted it before. It's certainly a plausible argument. But when I think about whether we should or shouldn't have invented some technology, I end up coming down on the side of letting it happen, drawing the line only at the plainly wrong, like growing human embryos in order to harvest their cells. Not that there's any consenus about any of that. I can't imagine any body of men whom I would trust to make wise decisions on these things. It requires a more-than-human vision.

I think the change we're talking about with pocket-size internet-connected computers (a more accurate description than "smart phone") is only one aspect of the change wrought by the World Wide Web. Since the late 1990s or so it has made a difference comparable to the introduction of radio or television.

Right -- I'm not on the "never invented" side. It's just that oftentimes the voices that are saying "Wait a minute here" go unheard, and we don't end up counting the cost before proceeding. That leaves us unprepared for the negative ramifications.

My father used to say, back in the late 1970s or early 1980s when federal agencies like OSHA were under a lot of criticism for unreasonable requirements, that if OSHA had been around for the invention of the automobile the latter would never have succeeded. Certainly if they could have correctly projected the number of traffic deaths (ca 40,000 a year until fairly recently, now running more like 35,000), it would have been considered unacceptable.

"Wait a minute" actually does get a lot of purchase now where there are environmental concerns. But not much with, say, surrogate motherhood. But there's a large noisy contingent that will slam you as "anti-science" if you try to stop something favored by liberals.

Re daydreaming, Louise, that's a habit that helped make me the underachiever that I am

oh. Is *that* my problem? LOL!

But at least day-dreaming (when you're stuck somewhere and cannot do anything useful) is using one's own brain.

I deplore the tendency of people to text and drive at the same time. That's where the addictive quality of gadgetry becomes very dangerous.

I call my GPS by his brand name "Tomtom." I say to the kids "would you get Tomtom for me?" and then later ask them to "put him away." But I pride myself on my navigating abilities too much to overuse him. :) Plus, frankly, sometimes he just leads me up the garden path! I would rather have maps really.

Texting while driving is illegal in a lot of places in the U.S. I've never had a GPS. I think it would take some getting used to.

texting while driving is illegal in Texas only in school zones

Btw, Louise, would you post the link to your blog? I didn't bookmark it and was just using the browser's memory of it to find it, but that's been cleared and now I can't find it.

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