Smartphones Are Toys First, Tools Second

If you time-traveled to the 1960s, or even the 1980s, and tried to describe smartphones to the people you met, they wouldn’t believe you.

It would simply seem too good to be true—an affordable, pocket-sized device that provides:

  • instant telegrams or phone calls, from anywhere to anywhere, usually free
  • maps of virtually every city or rural area, even showing current traffic conditions
  • searchable encyclopedias
  • up-to-the-minute news about anything in the world
  • step-by-step instructions for doing virtually anything
  • quick translations between dozens of languages
  • endless articles, courses, movies and TV shows
  • a camera that takes stills and video, and can transmit them to anyone instantly
  • the means for anyone to create their own regular column or newsletter, or audio or video broadcasts
  • the ability to adopt new functions at any time, usually for free

These are just a few basic smartphone functions, but to your new friends, they would all sound like life-changing superpowers. Their imaginations would run wild at how much easier such powers could make their lives.

They might assume that due to these devices alone, people of the 21st century will be achieving their most important goals at multiplied speed. It would be hard for them to believe that even one of those superpowers—the ability to find decent instructions for virtually any task, for example—wouldn’t make a person vastly more capable and fulfilled. Imagine what would they pay for those powers.

This is a very inspiring thought to guide my smartphone usage, but I don’t agree with the rest of the article. I’m reading stuff like this for years now, and we’re are always returning to the same solution: limit your smartphone usage which will solve your control problems. Also, it’s always the phone’s fault. You are the one who sets up stupid notifications and installs time-wasting apps, not the phone.

You can set up rules of what you’re going to install, but don’t blame the phone. It’s your fault if you can’t stop using social media or playing stupid games. Just remove them, don’t try to invent systems and blame it on the tool.

Also, I never understood people who just toss away their devices, then call themselves zen. You clearly have a problem of control. Throwing away a tool that can help you with so much is just ignoring a problem. It is true that a smartphone can feel like a superpower, but you know:

With great power comes great responsibility.