How are smartphones changing the texture of our lives? Obviously, letting us read e-books is the way we care most about around this blog. But how could we even have imagined back in the ‘90s what our convenient little e-book-toting PDAs would evolve into given another ten or fifteen years? I remember it used to feel so special when I saw someone using a mobile device in public—like meeting another member of my tribe. Now smartphones are basically glued to the hands of rich and poor, young and often even old.
Many of the people Ars Technica interviews in this three-minute video make that point—sometimes seriously, sometimes humorously, often insightfully. We already know they’ve changed the way we read, but they’ve also changed the way we interact with the world. When we lack a fact, we can simply ask Google, Cortana, or Siri. We no longer have to rely on asking a perfect stranger for directions that they might not be able to relate in a way we can understand—we can punch up a GPS app on our phones. (It’s certainly changed the way I get around Indianapolis—Waze guides me through the maze of confusing highway interchanges every time I rent a BlueIndy car. But is that keeping me from actually learning my way by heart? I suppose as long as I have my phone, it doesn’t really matter.) Isn’t it funny to consider all the old jokes and clichés that will no longer make sense to future generations? “Why didn’t they just pull out their smartphone?”
But by the same token, we no longer have to experience life live—we can spend all our time filming it and staring at it through our phones. (And I’ve just as guilty of that at concerts as anybody else.)
I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the girl who felt that phone use was “de-evolutionizing” humanity, though. Technological change is the natural state of humanity these days, and new inventions have been changing our lives year by year since before we were born. Smartphones weren’t the first example of that, nor will they be the last. As I pointed out earlier today, even if they do “change our brains,” that’s not necessarily a bad thing because our brains work by being changed. If anything, it’s helping us to evolve. It’s just that we may not be evolving in the direction everyone would prefer.
But then, nobody’s ever going to be happy about everything. That’s the way life works—we deal with the changes as best we can.
In the end, it reminds me of that Reddit answer I mentioned a few months ago about the hardest thing to explain to a time traveler from the 1950s. “I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.” Who knows what the next couple of generations would find hard to explain to us if we jumped ahead a few decades?