Last week’s “The Economist” was highly focused on the social and economic impact of the smartphone in global society. Saying that by 2020 80% of adults will have a supercomputer in their pocket. This is not a point to be debated but merely reflected upon, the release of the first iPhone in 2007 opened the flood gates to innovation and instantaneous communication unprecedented in the world.
I recently returned to school after several years in the workforce and am floored by the access to information and how ubiquitous the smartphone has become in education. I’m not the oldest student in my class but I remember the days when if I didn’t understand something I would walk to the library and use the dewey decimal system to find a book, when photocopying was a luxury and email was noisy. I remember during my undergrad I had a Dell laptop computer that weighed as much as a house brick. I would pack it up and drag it to the library or student union, which had just been wired with WiFi and it was a real luxury. My cell phone at the time was voice only but I mainly used my land-line (think of it as a cell phone that stays charging and you can’t go anywhere with it… craziness, I know). Now my phone vibrates with instantaneous updates for anything from social media to email from any one of my multiple accounts synced to my “app”.
Last week’s Economist showed us how the smartphone may be ubiquitous but it must be respected as a potential invasion of privacy. It knows everything about you, even things you may not know about yourself, and the average person spends two hours a day scrolling through news feeds and YouTube videos without a true grasp of the personal behavioral information that is broadcasted to whomever is savvy enough to intercept it. It’s easy to take advantage of the luxury of smartphones in a capitalist society that focuses on personal freedoms and standing up for our rights and privacy, but imagine what information a totalitarian society can use against you with a simple algorithm. It reminds me of George Orwell’s 1984, the boxes on the wall where Big Brother could hear everything you say and use it against you, creating a society based on distrust and fear. This was allegorical and hyperbolic yet alarming in how close to home Mr Orwell seems to have gotten at a time when interfacing was only a theory among academics.
The illusion of security and privacy is enough for some people to turn a blind eye for the sake of cat videos and being able to Google how to spell “usurpation” in an increasingly fast-paced world.
What will happen when everyone who remembers the days before WiFi and smartphones are dead and gone? My generation is the last generation to remember encyclopedias, hand-written assignments, face-to-face interaction, and bullying that was harmless and not ‘cyber’. We were forced to communicate with each other in a way that humans had done since we invented verbal language. It could be said that smartphones represent a leap in the human experience, similar to the advent of the the printing press or the radio. A step in the direction of synchronizing technology with the human mind and reaching a potential unfathomable to my grandmother’s generation. Her generation saw the mass production of the automobile, a world war, a great depression, a dust-bowl, a man on the moon, digital interfacing, and (God willing) a man on Mars. My generation has seen a fraction of that with no sign of slowing down. What will the next generation witness?
The smartphone, and digital interfacing of any kind, has given individuals access to information and the ability to connect with each other in a way that has started the momentum to change the world completely. We already see the sharing of ideas, streaming of videos, and blogging that has given way to changes (sometimes destructive) in society; especially our police force and judicial system, international affairs, education system, and security. It is up to the consumer to demand security and privacy in regards to our mobile devices. There are already measures being taken to screen what information can be used for specific purposes. With all new technologies there will be growing pains, then innovation and efficiency will lead to new problems.
These are man-made problems and it is up to man to ensure that our own innovation doesn’t lead to our demise.
Thank you for your time.