Ultraq's Final MooCow

Bits and pieces by Emanuel Rabina

Smartphones: the gateway to my demise

There have been a wealth (by my standards) of new things in my life these last 2 weeks: a new pair of glasses, a new role at work, a new phone, and if I'm really struggling for new things, a new haircut (well, it's the same haircut I keep getting, but it makes my hair look different... yeah, I did say I was struggling).

The glasses have been a long time coming. My last lenses and frames I had been on for several years, and it wasn't until I visited my new optometrist (oh, there's something new! Add that to the list!) that I learned I had been on the same lenses for almost 8 years. The frames I'd been on for even longer, probably since the start of my university days when a friend of mine, who I fondly dubbed my pseudo sister, helped me pick out those frames oh so long ago. I got the whole package: eye exam, frames, lenses, the first of which led me to learn that my eyesight has slowly been improving over the years - now they're only half as bad as they were when I first started wearing glasses (if all those Dioptres are spaced in a linear fashion).

Glasses
And my glasses look nothing like this

As for the new role at work, there's not too much to say about it actually since I haven't really been doing anything yet. I thought there'd be a bunch of stuff to do since they were so eager to pull me off my last project and send me into something that promised to be placate more of my interests - web design and mobile app/web development - both things I had to take into my own hands when I redesigned this site earlier this year. If this keeps up, in a few weeks, 'new role' might soon turn into 'new job'. Stay tuned.

And the phone... it's extremely awesome and, if I'm not careful, the gateway to my demise.

My last phone wasn't that old - only 3 years come December. That might be old by mobile phone technology standards, but it sure didn't match my old glasses for staying power. It probably would have lasted another year too if it weren't for me trying to do more with my phone and hitting brick walls every time I tried to emulate something I'd seen on someone else's smartphone.

It was a dumbphone for all intents and purposes (although I had learned this year that the web design euphemism for such devices is "feature phone"), so I shouldn't have expected too much out of it. As one who stays up-to-date with all the latest gadgetry, it was all too easy to become envious of phones that basically allowed you to carry the internet in your pocket. It probably didn't help when I got that iPad either, giving me a glimpse into just what could be done with technology these days.

So last week, when I started a new role, surrounded by people who had all made the smartphone plunge (the number of iPhones floating around the new office floor is ridiculous), and with my telco having a deal on smartphones that expired at the end of last month, I went and got myself this:

Samsung Galaxy S3 - Pebble Blue

(There are a bunch of these phones on this new floor too, so I wasn't pioneering anything by getting it. Sure it was a new frontier for myself, but I've always been consistently late when it comes to technology.)

Some of the first things I did included loading it up with all the apps I was familiar with (eg: see all those social media icons at the bottom of the page of this site? Yeah, I basically got an app for each of those), watch a Matt Mulholland video, play Nyan Cat on it at a recent gathering, and stream my Spotify library to it as I walked to/from work. It does have its faults, but it's easily the most convenient device I have ever owned, and it's that convenience that worries me.

Before my smartphone purchase I was at a table in a bar and 9 out of 10 of the people there had their phone out looking through Facebook or concentrating on texts, rather than talking with everybody else, and just last week at the same event I played that Nyan Cat video, one of us posted a photo of what we were doing (playing that old board game Space Crusade) and in the comments and 'likes' that ensued, we basically had an entire conversation, through our phones, through Facebook...

In that first instance, being the 1 out of 10 who didn't have his face hidden behind an Android or iPhone backplate, I felt quite annoyed at everybody else and a tad left out. In that second instance, when I could actually be a part of that crowd, the moment I put down my phone and realized what had transpired, I just felt sad.

Every now and then I come across a picture or article that points out the irony of this social media age: that despite having so many ways to connect with one another, we're the most disconnected with those immediately around us. We bury our heads in these tiny little screens to text people who aren't here or to see what people who are elsewhere are doing, yet how many of us can confidently name our neighbours, or the people living in the apartment down the hall?

It's a sad little truth, and it's just one of the things that comes to mind when I touch the Facebook app on my phone. It's a huge convenience, a window to the world where I can get through to my friends, but a virtual wall between myself and those physically around me. This phone is just another tool to perpetuate the social equivalent of tunnel vision, and what troubles me is that I sought it out.