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

 

Wall-E

Wall-E