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How We (Don’t) Use Smartphones

I recently chatted with a local reporter about my smartphone usage, which was featured in this Kitsap Sun piece on how Kitsap-area residents use their smartphones. Of course, we talked about a lot of things other than what got featured in this story.

For me, the smartphone has been an indispensable tool for years now. It has served as my camera, my GPS, my source of information and entertainment, and so much more–instantly, from almost anywhere. While the iPhone and Android devices are the “gold standard” today, there were plenty of other devices that predated these from Nokia that could serve a lot of the same functions, and did for me.

The Rise of the Smartphone

Despite smartphones having been around for a while now–heck I had a smartphone back in the early 2000s in the form of a Nokia Communicator 9290–I think I understood why smartphones finally started becoming popular (in the mainstream sense0 after I bought my iPhone 3GS last year. It’s the user experience. Apple improved it. Substantially.

Clearly when the iPhone launched, it could barely be called a Smartphone. It was an over glorified feature phone at best, but it had a pretty user interface. The iPhone didn’t really become a smartphone (in my mind, anyway) until you could install applications.

In addition to redefining the user experience for phones–smart or otherwise–Apple made normal people aware of what these phones could do. The other phone makers, including my employer at the time Nokia, were quick to point out that they, too, could do all these clever things along with all the other things the iPhone could not do.

This, along with the rise of Android, has catapulted the smartphone into the mainstream. Every day I go out into the real world, I see people using their smartphones for more than just making calls. Clearly not everyone is using it, yet, but enough that I don’t consider it uncommon anymore.

But At What Cost?

Over the years, I’ve been extremely lucky to have had access to a lot of great devices (at least when I worked at Nokia) and paid-for service to use with them. This makes using these devices a complete no-brainer–even if I have to buy the handset myself, which I did with the iPhone 3GS last year.

Meanwhile, my wife has wanted an iPhone for a while now. The problem is: it costs too much. Not for the handset itself, but for the recurring monthly cost. The cheapest plan we could get from AT&T is about $65, and that’s with the 200MB data plan (which I suspect even she will exceed). Our current mobile phone cost? About $10/mo thanks to T-Mobile prepaid.

Is there $55/mo of value in having an all-capable smartphone at her beck and call? Not really. There’s also a lot of extra hassle involved in keeping the battery charged on a daily basis, though for me it’s more like twice a day.

Despite the increased costs and additional overhead of having a smartphone, clearly more and more people are using them for a variety of reasons. It’s not uncommon for me to see people checking into Facebook (or some other social network) from their mobile phone.

What Are The Social Implications?

A comment on the Kitsap Sun article I appeared in raises an interesting question:

This just shows how sad we’ve become when people can’t survive or go through withdrawls when they lose or forget their phone. The constant need to twitter/facebook, myspace etc…. shows how narcisistic we’ve become as a society.

This speaks to the potential for this kind of connectivity being addictive–like crack. Of course, even before most people knew what smartphones were, mobile phones became essential items you left the house with. It’s especially important in today’s world where finding a payphone is increasingly more difficult. Thus it seems likely that as more people get smartphones, more people will be carrying them with them.

One of the qualities of being addicted to something is not being able to do without it. It certainly seemed that way for one person I observed trying to post a Facebook update in an airplane–while the plane was taxing for takeoff–but I think that’s more of an exception than the norm.

The more pertinent question for anyone carrying a smartphone is–when is using it in a social situation ok? When is it not? I think it depends on whether or not the people you are with are also smartphone users.

That said, I think everyone can–and should–put down the smartphone sometimes. There’s a whole world going on around you. If you’re looking at your smartphone all the time, you might miss something.


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Parent, Writer, Podcaster, Coffee Achiever, VoIP/Telco Curious, C-List Information Security Celebrity, and Mobile Phone Connoisseur residing in Gig Harbor WA US. Sometimes NSFW, always a 49ers fan.