Smartphones require smart people

The other week, the BBC ran an item on their various news outlets about people who are giving up smartphones in favour of “Nokia-style” phones that can only make and receive calls and text messages. I have seen similar articles before, but this one started with a young mother who had noticed how many parents at the local park spend all their time looking at their phones rather than interacting with their children. This is something I have increasingly noticed, too. I am frankly fed up with the antisocial way that so many people behave in general when it comes to smartphone use. You are trying to have a conversation with someone, but they are more interested in looking at their phone. You are talking to someone when their phone notifies them of something or another, and they immediately have to look at the screen, a reflex action like Pavlov’s dog salivating at the sound of a bell. Whatever happened to manners? I just can not understand why a message on a phone is considered by so many people to be more important than interacting with the person who is physically there with you.

I have a smartphone, but it spends 99% of its time in my pocket if I’m out and about, or on a shelf or table at home. Smartphones are very useful, for example for checking bus or train times, for looking at a map when trying to get somewhere, for finding that piece of information from your e-mail account, for displaying a QR code at the post office to send a parcel without having to print a label. The list goes on. The “solution” to the problem of people’s addiction to and antisocial use of smartphones does not have to be to switch it for a Nokia.

Here are some suggestions. Disable or silence almost all notifications. Most things are not so important that you need to look the second they occur. Messages and alerts will be there waiting when you next look at the phone. Smartphones have very sophisticated and fine-grained control over sounds and alerts, so use them. Uninstall all social media apps (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) so as not to waste time obsessively scrolling through inane rubbish. If you must use social media, use a web browser either on your phone or a computer and do so at a set time in the evening when there is genuinely nothing else to do. Uninstall proprietary messaging apps such as Whatsapp. If a message is really important, someone can send an SMS, otherwise most messages are likely pointless. And finally, put the phone in your pocket. Manufacturers do not help here, as they seemingly make their phones bigger and bigger each year, without really offering small phones as an option.

It’s not the type of phone that’s the problem, it’s the user. It’s perfectly possible to have a smartphone and use it for all sorts of useful purposes, but to not let it rule your life and make you antisocial and rude towards people who are with you: including your own children.

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