Against my will, I was forced to get a smartphone. My friend and partner Will wanted to get a new phone so he decided to give me his old phone. It is some kind of a Samsung unit, but of course, compared to what I’ve had, it is awesomely amazing. I think what I had before is 0.0001g or some version of SLIP. (That’s old hacker humor!) This thing seems to do all the things I see people doing with what must be much better smartphones. I’m on Twitter, getting updated about what drunken atheists are up to. And I can check my 15 different email accounts. But it makes me wonder about the people who tweet and email throughout their days.
How do they do it? I’m a really good typist. In fact, I’m so good that I’ve forgotten where the keys are. My fingers know, my eyes don’t. The little keyboard comes up and I’m thinking, “Now where is that H character?!” It does, however, have this little microphone gadget that does a surprisingly good job of converting my voice into text. It makes obvious mistake. It is hopeless with homophones. It puts numerals into sentences when I don’t want them. And most of all, it is hopeless with punctuation and doesn’t know how to capitalize the beginning of a sentence. Still, it’s pretty amazing. I can get a tweet completed a lot faster than I could type it in. Of course, it is nowhere near as fast as I type on a proper keyboard.
The way I used the internet on my old phone was that I would enter a website and then put the phone in my pocket. After a few minutes, I would check to see if it had loaded. Mostly it did. Sites like Wikipedia do an excellent job of spitting out bits of pages to phones like mine. But even after regular pages would load, it was a hassle. It was very much like the old days using the text-based browser Lynx. If there was a left sidebar, you would have to scroll all the way down it because the page didn’t do any formatting. And worst of all, the phone’s browser would only load so much of a page. So the Frankly Curious page (which is hardly long) would only make it upwards of half way down the page.
Still, the whole thing makes me wonder. How is it that the whole society is going toward tablet computing. Maybe I’m just biased because I’m a writer, but I find a traditional setup with a keyboard and mouse far easier to use to get work done. Even for reading, I would rather just hit page-down than zip my finger across the screen, which seems always to cause the screen to move more than I wanted. Admittedly, I will doubtless get much better at that. But I wonder: does anyone get actual work done with these devices?
I’m afraid that the answer is no. My experience in corporate America is that very little work ever gets done. And I suspect that the hyper-connectivity in modern business is just a way for management to convince itself that it is accomplishing things. I don’t mean to suggest that these tools can’t or even don’t help people be productive. But I think at this point, it would take me about four times as long to create an article on my phone—and that’s assuming I could use the microphone function. I could use the phone to tweet as I go about my life, but that would likely turn me into one of those sad people who tweet things like, “Just bought a BBQ chicken at Whole Foods. Yum!” And I can’t imagine anything but the tersest of responses on email.
The way the phone helps me greatly is that it will allow me to read my standard websites while I’m out. And I assume it will also work as a book reader. Also: the microphone function on the text messages is great, although Andrea has already complained about typos in the three texts I’ve sent her. But there’s no doubt that this is a major advance. It is just that its a major advance in the ways that I was already using my phone. And I don’t think those were making me especially more productive. In fact, I think that computers generally have made me less useful to society. So I curse them generally.
Of course, now that I’ve downloaded Q*bert, all bets are off.