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On smartphones

Posted 2/14/2022

It is crazy how dependent we’ve become on smartphones, through all of their functionality. These devices are often linked to cloud services that take away our control.

Maybe we shouldn’t think of new features as something the device can do for us, and as a good thing, but rather as another part of our lives that the device, and the company behind it, wants to control, and as a bad thing.

Admittedly Apple claims to encrypt and not have access to the data, and to not use the data for its own purposes, whilst Google mines the data to sell advertisements. But they both want to sell you ecosystems that take away your control.

The question I keep coming up against is this: is the smartphone the new car, or rather, another car. And by that I mean a device that we’ve so built into society that you can’t do without one. Most Americans can’t do without a car. Can we do without a smartphone?

I thought the answer was “yes, of course!”. But now that I’ve done it, I realize that even though you still CAN, there is more to it than that; not using a smartphone in 2021 is at LEAST a major inconvenience.

You can’t use any of the messaging apps that require installation on a cell phone, even for their desktop functionality. You don’t get push notifications, which is how a lot of announcements and communications go out these days. You can’t use some parking lots. You can’t get a ride share if you’re out and about. ATMs are disappearing at the rate of more than 3500 a year, and branches are slowly going away too.

Heaven help you if you don’t have a cell phone whatsoever. I haven’t seen a pay phone in a long time. Haven’t used one in even longer.

The country is optimizing life for smartphones the way it has optimized for cars. I expect this trend to accelerate as older generations that are at least somewhat resistant to smartphones die, and businesses and governments look to save on costs by replacing local infrastructure with apps.

And there isn’t really much to be done about any of this. The only positive idea I’ve come up with is that those concerned should advocate for open OS standards, and for businesses and governments to release apps directly to users as well as through the big stores.

If we do nothing then these little pocket-dwelling control freaks we call smartphones will become our mandatory burden to bear, and so too will be the companies that control them.