Home » MBJ FEATURE » ALAN TURNER — Are smart phones making us dumber?

ALAN TURNER — Are smart phones making us dumber?



Twenty years ago, you would have noticed almost no one carrying, texting, or speaking on a cell phone. That’s because there weren’t many around.

Today, try and find someone who doesn’t have a cell phone. That would be like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

For better or worse, we’re all “tethered” to those phones that live in our pockets, or in cases on our belts, or in our purses. But they are never far from our restless hands and anxious eyeballs.

Recently, I saw a parody on one of the late night shows called “Guiding Hands”. It was for a fictitious company that provides a person to guide another person who is engrossed and occupied by his/her cellphone and too busy with that to look up and pay attention to where they’re going. It was a funny skit, admittedly, but there was an uneasy ring of truth to what it portrayed….namely, those folks who walk around doing something on their phones and blundering into other people, or out into traffic, or (heaven forbid) operating a motor vehicle.

Recently, I saw a group of teenagers—perhaps 7 or 8 boys and girls—all standing in a circle, and each and every one was occupied in texting or otherwise looking at something on their cell phones. Despite being in a group, they were paying zero attention to any other person in the group, not making conversation, not making eye contact. They were each engrossed in the tiny world of their cell phone screen.

The more I’ve thought of this, the more uneasy I’ve become. Are we all destined to cease any social interaction other than on the 4 or 5 inch screen? Is this like an addiction?

Interestingly, this phenomenon crosses all barriers of age, gender, and race. We all are part of the culture. Perhaps the virtual reality headsets are in the near future for just about everyone?

Change that comes this fast is truly fascinating. For those of us who are old enough to remember the days when the only thing on a desk at work was an old-fashioned calculator, a rotary dial phone, and a calendar on which you actually applied written words, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

My question and concern is whether we are being in some sense made “dumber” by our smart phones. They do so much for us, that we don’t necessarily have to do much for ourselves, and that might even include thinking logically and rationally. Can that truly be a positive thing in the long run?

From a business perspective, smart phones are a key and integral component in the whole shift to things digital. We can buy and sell, hold meetings, do research, write letters and respond to communications from others, instantly. We’re already seeing the rapid decline of brick-and-mortar retail, because so many people are shopping with their smart phones. That’s one more instance of less human interaction, because we never see the people from whom we buy things. We don’t smile at one another and pass the time of day. The only time we pass is with our smart phones. Many of us are actually watching movies and TV shows on our smartphones (though how anyone would be content with a 4 inch movie, I cannot fathom). That means we aren’t going to the movie houses and smelling the good old aroma of popping popcorn. There are many more such examples of our move to the world of the 4 and 5 inch screens, and it’s hard not to wonder how things will look in another 5 or 10 years.

How important are smart phones to YOUR business these days? We’d love to hear from you, pro or con.

Now, lest you think I’m just one of those people who are stuck in the past and complain ceaselessly about the present, I’ll have to ‘fess up and admit that I’m not quite sure how I would get by without my own smart phone these days. Is that dumb on my part? Maybe.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.


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