Smartphones are Eating your Brain — Or, Ode to “The Feeling of Power”

I was thinking today as I was out doing my round of errands… what did people do before smartphones?

Did they come out of a grocery store pushing their cart full of groceries, paying attention to their little children and not letting them run around willy-nilly wherever they wanted? Especially, let’s say, directly in front of another person’s cart causing that person to stop quickly or else run them over thereby tossing their precariously perched milk into the parking lot. I’m sure parents would’ve noticed this prior to smartphone days don’t you think?  Maybe?

Since their attention would not be riveted on a small square screen, did these non-smartphone owning parents put their groceries in the trunk of their car, while at the same time keeping track of the aforementioned little children so that they weren’t at risk of being flattened by cars driving up and down the aisle-ways (or whatever the technical term is for the driveway between the rows of cars)?

Did they put their children in car seats then take their cart all the way to a cart corral so it wouldn’t block someone else’s access to a parking spot or roll back into the aisle-way? Would they then get in their car, look in their rear-view mirror both ways before backing out of the spot, and then drive carefully out of the parking lot?  (You can sort of tell what kind of experience I had at the grocery store I suppose.)

Well, the answer to those riveting questions is no!  Ha! Surprised you there, didn’t I!?

The same people who are careless today with their smartphones are the same people who were careless even when they didn’t have smartphones to occupy their attention. Smartphones just make it worse.

Even without smartphones, grocery store parking lots (and grocery stores themselves) have always been hazardous and annoying places because of inconsiderate and/or oblivious patrons. And don’t even get me started on those people who leave their shopping cart in the middle of an adjacent parking spot, instead of pushing it all of ten feet into a cart corral! (I’m not joking. I can understand people who don’t want to walk 10 yards or so to a cart corral, but when it’s literally ten feet away and they can’t be bothered? What’s up with that!?)

So, smartphones are just another way for people who are already inconsiderate and careless about personal space to be even more inconsiderate and careless on many levels.

But there’s more to the insidious nature of smartphones than that… I’ve been considering this for a while.

There’s a rather famous Isaac Asimov short story – well, it’s famous if you’re a science fiction fan, anyway – called “The Feeling of Power,” about a society where people have forgotten to do math in their heads, because they always use calculators. (I don’t want to go into the whole story… suffice it to say that it takes place in a dystopian future where people have been supplanted by intelligent robots — of course, being Asimov).

In his autobiography, Asimov says that one of the magazine editors who read this story (he wrote it in 1958) scoffed at the idea that mankind could ever possibly forget how to do simple math in their head.

Well… in 2014 is there any doubt about it? It used to be calculators were never allowed in classrooms – students had to do all the math by themselves. By the 1990s, students were allowed to take math tests with their handy-dandy calculators by their side.

And it’s only gotten worse.

There are no calculators in classrooms these days, I don’t think… because they have been supplanted by phones which have calculators, cameras, and of course, the ability to text to people. And if students are asked not to bring their phones to school and text in class while the teacher is trying to actually teach, there is such an uproar that you would not believe it!

I admit – I personally can’t remember new phone numbers anymore. I don’t need to. They’re all programmed into my phone. People in general don’t need to keep anything in their heads anymore – it’s all in their phones.

And it’s amazing how many people are connected to their electronics as if they’re life giving umbilical cords.  If something ever happened to their phones, I think these people would end up staring glassy-eyed into the distance, drooling, not knowing what to do.

Asimov predicted this in 1958… but he was ignored.  I imagine that not too long into the future we’ll not only be amazed by anyone who can remember how to do simple arithmetic or recall a phone number on command, but perhaps going further, we’ll have a Wall-E kind of existence. Just sitting on floating barca-loungers, computer screens planted right smack in front of our faces with no idea whatsoever of what’s going on around us.

Read Mr. Asimov's short story here

Read Isaac Asimov’s short story here




15 thoughts on “Smartphones are Eating your Brain — Or, Ode to “The Feeling of Power”

  1. A few days ago I was walking from the grocery store back to my place — about a four block walk. I was holding two grocery bags, one in each arm, so, having only two arms, I was unable to use my iPhone during that walk. But I noticed that every other person I passed along my four block walk was glued to their smartphones. Everyone! Every once in a while they would look up to get their bearings. And I actually saw — twice, in fact — two people who were so absorbed by whatever was on their screens that they walked into each other. More like crashed into each other. It’s crazy.

    Of course, had I been carrying only one grocery bag and had my other arm and hand free, I probably would have been on my iPhone too.

  2. I agree! And that’s why I despair about Google Glass – I really do not think that adding the internet into my field of vision will improve the world at all, we will all be squiffy eyed and bumping into each other even more I think!

  3. I, for one, welcome our handheld information device overlords! And I have my floating barca-lounger all picked out, a mauve one to highlight my pasty white skin tone as I devolve into slug form.

  4. Smart devices have taken our attention away from the ‘real’ world. It’s odd to me that someone will play with a phone and ignore the person sitting at the table with them.

    • I know just what you mean! We had a family member through marriage (who is no longer part of the family) who would come to visit and stay on her phone texting the entire time. The ENTIRE time. She never talked to anyone who was actually present at the get-together AT ALL. And I would take that as a testament to my family’s boring-ness (hence her need for external stimulation) but my understanding is she did that everywhere she went. It’s ridiculous.

  5. The secondary school where my wife teaches banned the use of mobile phones on school grounds before the arrival of smart phones. The ban is still in effect, and applies to both students and staff. The practice of banning phones at primary and secondary school is quite common in New Zealand.

    When I was in full time work, I had to have a mobile phone with me 24/7, from the time they were not much smaller than a brick. When I quit fulltime work in 1999, I was extremely glad to get rid of the phone instead of getting customer call outs at all times of the day and night. I value my privacy too much to return to carrying a phone all the time. I do have a non-smart phone that I take when I’m away from home for an extended period, but it’s for emergency use only, and less than a handful of people know its number. For the time being, I’ll keep the status quo.

    • I wish our schools had a ban here on phones in school. But kids do everything but actually talk on their phones during school and during class. It’s ridiculous. Teachers in the middle school might take a phone and hold it till the end of the year (according to the student’s manual), but they rarely do and it’s like they’ve simply given up even trying in high school.

      I don’t blame you at all for valuing your privacy. I live in an area that has sketchy service and sometimes I’m grateful for not always having a clear signal in my house. It’s like a forced oasis from the chatter and noise of my phone, my work, etc.

  6. I couldn’t agree more. I can’t remember anyone’s number, I haven’t dialed a number in years. I like the Back to the Future movies as well:) People go to diner and never look at each other or speak. I’ve seen it happen. I was in a restaurant for lunch and parents came in, put their baby in a highchair, the sat down, both took out their phones and handed the baby an iPad and no one spoke or looked at each other during the entire meal.

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