Sunday, 15 January 2012

Why I hate smartphones - and what makes them great

It's taken me a long time to even entertain getting a smartphone. I used to find them a social nuisance, always ringing and pinging and going off all the time - and don't get me started on people who sit opposite each other in a cafe, each texting someone else on their handset....
Because of this, I've never bothered with them. A few years ago I threw my mobile phone away and spent four glorious years away from the mobile world. In fact, it was only because of work that I begrudgingly spent £4.99 on a handset and SIM card at the local ASDA store and that's been my 'phone of choice ever since.

I've recently been given (loaned) a few different smartphone handsets and asked to write some software and some websites to run on them. It took me a while to get past the fact that as a miniature computer, they couldn't compete with my notebook and as a 'phone they're just excessive. But slowly, I'm coming to realise that it's not the device that has upset me so much over the years - it's how it's used.

The earlier example is something you see a lot in most towns and cities across the UK:
two people sat opposite each other, each on their phone, chatting or texting with someone else. Why not just invite the other person to the cafe and sit and chat with them instead? I genuinely believe that these devices are affecting social interaction between people - and not just thanks to the slang and grammar that is creeping into everyday language, but even how people relate to each other when they are face-to-face. And it's not for the better!

That said, I'm slowly warming to these smartphone devices.
Not because I can access my emails and Twitter while on-the-go (I can, but still prefer reading things full screen on my notebook). Nor because I can view any website while out-and-about; because when I'm out-and-about, I want to interact with the real world, not a series of virtual images and links! In fact, for gathering and reading information, I still think something with a puny 3" screen is a pretty poor device for doing so, however impressive the technology behind making it happen is. And to see people sitting and walking around, oblivious to their surroundings, concentrating on what's happening to their "virtual alter ego" makes me want to weep. Put your phone away - enjoy the sunshine! Listen to the sounds of the city, enjoy the company of other people!

However, as a device for taking a photo and posting a quick note - "I'm here, I've seen this, come see for yourself" - well, I'm getting to actually quite like my (borrowed) smartphone(s). Jabbing a button to take a photo or a short video, then sending to the 'net takes a minute or two at most, but allows me to share what I'm doing with the world!

But now I've fallen out of love with my smartphone - because there's just sooo much going on and sooo many people "broadcasting to the world" that it's just becoming a noise, and I don't want to be just another voice adding to the massive pile of crap that makes up most of the "social networking" side of the internet.

In fact, I don't really care about sharing my stuff with the world.
I don't care if the world is interested.
What I do want to do is publish stuff that I find interesting and share it with my friends and family who may also find it interesting. That's it really.

And that's what sites like Twitter and Facebook allow me to do (I'm a pretty new user of both). I just didn't realise it; maybe because most of the posts I read are from people wanting to broadcast to as wide an audience as possible, trying to sound impressive or interesting to as many people as they can, trying to attract as many friends/followers as possible. But  my dislike of the Twitter and Facebook sites didn't stem from the technology - it came from how people were using them. But all it takes is a change of attitude, and suddenly my smartphone and a previously hated site becomes quite a useful tool.

I'd never consider phoning my best mate up to say "mmmm, I'm eating some toast, nom nom".
I wouldn't send even my closest family member an email to ask "tea or coffee? I can't decide".
I don't understand why people post rubbish like that on Twitter.
But that doesn't mean that I have to either. So I won't.

But posting text and images to the 'net (via Twitter for example) for my circle of dozen or so close friends who might be interested in what I'm doing and when is infinitely easier with one of these little smartphone jobbies. And as a result, they might come along to where I'm at and join in with what I'm doing. And when they do, the phone has done it's job so we'll make sure they are turned off and put away - there's a world going on outside that 3" screen!