I was walking around the city the other day, just scrolling through the amazing content that the Space Gods beam to my iPhone. And, as I crossed a street against the light, I pondered, “Why is everyone so down on mobile technology lately?” The universe answered immediately in the angry, cursing voice of an Uber® driver who'd nearly hit me.
Computers used to be freakin' huge.
Computers have come a long way in my life-time, maybe not as far as Sci-Fi authors predicted—I'm looking at you, teleportation—but considering that NASA's Apollo Guidance Computer was the size of a room, and you programmed it with punch-cards, I'd say, pretty far.
Early astronauts had no way of knowing that their brave sacrifices would one day let humans post dance videos from outer space—I'm sure they'd have been astonished. At first. And then deeply appalled and disappointed.
Mobile technology has so much potential.
Undoubtedly, the biggest technological advance has been the smartphone. These Internet-connected devices put all the world's knowledge in the palm of anyone with an extra US$1000 and an unlimited cellular data plan. Within those Hello-Kitty®-branded iPhone cases, lies the power to herald in a new Age of Enlightenment—or at least, it did, until Facebook was invented.
Enlightenment is never inevitable.
Now, staring into a smartphone all day is considered unseemly, or worse, gauche. Admit it, friend, if I spent all my time “with my nose in a book,” most people would consider me smart. Yet just because I use my mobile phone to uncritically absorb a wildly biased feed full of lies and propaganda, I'm somehow unsmart?
Are you telling me that great literature isn't chock-full of fibs and fabrications? Okay, then what are Jay Gatsby, Atticus Finch, and Ron Burgundy's Social Security numbers? We'll never know, because those are fake identities created by the CIA to infiltrate commie book clubs. (Learn more in my podcast, “Most fiction never happened!”)
Problem exists between phone and chair.
No technology is inherently good or evil (other than giant killer robots which are inherently evil—that's why we call them that). Technologies only become “evil” when human beings start adopting them.
Every benevolent invention inevitably turns malevolent in the hands of homo sapiens (see also, nuclear fission, printing press, language, Pokemon®, et al). Frankly, humans can't be trusted to use a turkey fryer responsibly, so why would we expect any better behavior with handheld supercomputers?
Can we be left to our own mobile devices?
Still, if the worst consequences of mobile technology are only increasing depression, anxiety, and loneliness, in addition to partisan division and the death of democracy, then we got off easy. We should be thankful nobody's created a mobile app yet that fries turkeys, or this whole planet will burn.