Saturday, March 17, 2012

Smartphone, dumb people?

There seems to be an intense debate going on in the technology world today. Does having the internet literally at our fingertips 24/7 make us smarter or dumber? I have mixed feelings about this topic and thought I’d put my two cents out there.

Seems like people who don’t own a Smartphone (or similar device) are likely to say it makes us dumber. Is that because they haven’t used one before…or because they refuse to use one in fear that they will become stupid? Will there even be an option 5 years from now to own a phone that’s not smart?

I’m a fan of computers, of technology, gadgets, and my new iPhone. And I want an iPad. And it actually frustrates me that people might say that it could make me dumber or lazier. I will say though, that information addiction is not a good thing. We crave that instant gratification. Instant information. And we can get that from technology—not so much from real live people. So my argument is not that it will make us dumber—but it can certainly make us impatient and rude.

I hated it when my Smartphone-less self tried to have a conversation with people in the room when all those people wanted to do was check email and surf the net. But at the same time, it’s kind of cool when some topic is raised and questions are asked and the answers are immediately found online. Does that make us dumb? Does that mean we cannot think for ourselves anymore? Or does it make us more knowledgeable and informed? I think it could go either way, and it depends on the user (just like anything else…).

Do you use your Smartphone for good or for evil? Do you ignore your friends, family, and the people on the metro because you have a Smartphone? Do you walk across the street with your eyes glued to the tiny screen and get hit by a car? Do you text and drive at the same time? Or do you use your phone to learn new skills and share them with friends to have a meaningful conversation? How about use your iPad during your child’s soccer practice so you don’t get bored or have to talk to other parents? Or do you use it to spend time with and teach your children? Do you use it for productivity or boredom? Has it made you become a couch potato or has it been your fitness coach and helped you run a half marathon? Do you play mindless games to block out real life or catch up on the world news?

So I’ll let you decide if you think my Smartphone use is making me dumber and lazier.

The top 5 things I use my Smartphone for:

1. Keeping in touch. Phone calls, Skype, texts, social media keep me connected to loved ones. Nothing is as good as being in the same room as someone but when 1,000 miles inevitably gets in the way of that, I still want to be able to connect with them. Share photos and memories with them. Share knowledge and opinions and life views with them. Various things on the internet are often good conversation starters. I have so many friends across the country--without technology we wouldn't still be friends because it'd just be impossible.

2. Location location location. Maps. Directions. Google Earth. Finding good healthy restaurants and grocery stores. Finding trails to hike. Gas stations when you are on empty. Where’s the metro station? With so many options and millions of people on the roads I don’t need to waste time driving in circles getting lost or settling for McDonalds because it’s the first place I see. Don’t rely so much on that GPS that you’d drive into a lake because it tells you to keep right.

3. Productivity. To-do lists. Reminders. Online banking. Budgets. Important documents. Travel plans. I can scan receipts and keep track of spending. Taking notes in meetings. Find jobs. Networking for jobs. Find apartments to rent. One of my favorites is Mindjet for visualizing brainstorming ideas. I’ll throw weather, radar, sunrise/set, tides, and moonrise info in here too because I use it for work.

4. Entertainment. Music is most important to me here. It motivates me and calms me and energizes me. Audiobooks and podcasts come in second—especially when I’m stuck in a car for hours by myself. Sometimes I watch TV online—I’ve watched more educational oddball documentaries on Netflix than anything else. Flipboard is like having 20 magazines at my fingertips. TED for great inspirational talks by amazing people. Constant learning isn’t a bad thing and certainly doesn't make one dumb. Yes, I have games too. But playing scrabble with friends can be good for the brain too. It requires thinking. I think fitness falls in here too—I have a SmartCoach running trainer at my fingertips that helps me plan and track my runs. I can see videos of yoga moves or how to lift weights properly. I can even view full workouts thanks to a Nike app. (No, I can’t afford a real trainer even though that would be better).

5. Education. Most of what I called “entertainment” could fall here. But basically if there is anything I don’t know – I can look it up. Medical info. New healthy recipes. How to tie knots. How to change a tire when I’m stuck on the side of the road with no man it sight. What’s the biggest lake in the world? What does the human brain look like? It’s endless.

Don’t forget to interact with real live people once in a while. Leave work at work when you go home. Get outside in the sunshine and be active. Travel and see new places. Be patient and be aware of information addiction. Turn off the technology for a while when it gets too overwhelming. Be safe. Don't be rude.

Use your Smartphone/iPad wisely and I don’t think you’ll become dumber or lazier.   

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