If you’ve used a smartphone — like an iPhone (s aapl) or an Android (s goog), or one of the newer BlackBerry devices (s rimm) — for a long time, here’s a challenge: go for a day or two without it, and see how it feels. I don’t mean hiking the Appalachian Trail; try to go without it during a regular day in a city, or better still, do it when you’re on a business trip to an unfamiliar city. I did that on a recent day in San Francisco after my iPhone locked me out for no reason, and it was a painful experience.
It was painful because suddenly I was disconnected. I don’t mean that I couldn’t make phone calls (in fact, that was the part about the phone I missed the least), but I couldn’t look up where I was in Google Maps, or find out where I was going, or measure how long it was going to take me (I was trying to get to the Apple store, so they could help me fix the phone, which suddenly started asking me for a passcode, even though I hadn’t set one). Particularly in an unfamiliar city, this kind of tool is hugely useful — and even in my home city, I use it all the time.
But it was more than just that. I couldn’t take photos of my surroundings, which is another thing I like to do with the iPhone as my main camera. I like to snap photos, upload them to Flickr (s yhoo) or Facebook — and share them with Instagram — a service that posts your photos to a stream your friends can follow and comment on, but also automatically cross-posts them to other services as well, including Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and Tumblr.
Twitter and Facebook were the other two things I missed. As anyone who follows me on Twitter (I’m @mathewi) probably knows, I share a lot on Twitter — thoughts, but mostly links to interesting content. It’s become an integral part of my day (and often of my night as well); not just posting things that I come across, but reading and commenting on the things that others post. I know it’s an overused term, but it really is a conversation, and it was something I missed a lot.
But it was more than that, too. I also missed the ability to look up anything I was curious about at a moment’s notice. Why is that building called that? What does that sign mean? Why is there a giant bow and arrow sticking in the ground near the Embarcadero? Lots of questions occurred to me, but I was incapable of finding the answers. Sure, I could have bought a guidebook, or I could have stopped someone, but the ability to do it from a handheld device on a whim is something I have become fairly addicted to.
This isn’t about the iPhone either — it’s about how smartphones have changed our lives in hundreds of tiny ways, and it isn’t until we try to spend a day or two without them that we find out exactly how dependent we are on them. Is that a good thing? I don’t know, to be honest. Maybe I should remember more things, instead of relying on my ability to look them up in Google. But I do know that having those tools at my fingertips is incredibly powerful — and for better or worse, there’s no question that we are becoming inextricably linked to devices, and particularly those that allow us to connect with our family and friends. And from my perspective, there are way more benefits to that than there are disadvantages.
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