The smarter the technology, the dumber the user (do we need all those apps ?)

Smartphones brought something pretty incredible to our daily lives : an infinite source of artificial intelligence in the palm of our hands. Clearly, in the breakthrough of technology, smartphones stand at the cornerstone of our transhumance.

In 2017, a lot of us will reach 10 years of unpaused smartphone usage. What conclusions can I take as an individual user with a light early-adopter bias ?

A smart-apps world clouded my brain

It has become obvious to most of us that our mobile has made us dependent of the machine. With technology always at reach, I do not need to foresee much as I can do everything right in the momentum: No plane ticket ? I can buy them in the taxi on my way to the airport. Where will I meet my friend and make sure we don’t miss each other in a crowded place ? Instant messenging. How much money do I have in my account ? Online banking. What’s happening in Gambia right now ? Gogle News, Twitter, thousands of others… How do I cook this ? Google. It’s becoming really hard to find something that doesn’t already have an app for that.

The technology is making my life simpler, yet I keep wondering if this is a good thing : Every time I find myself without an internet connection or a mobile device, I realize that I’ve lost some autonomous abilities: Driving to unknown places without Google Maps is more stressful, finding a place to stay in an unknown city feels impossible, my social life requires more planning ahead of time and I do not have the phone number of most of my contacts, I won’t know how to find a specific store in the city, the list goes on, but I think it’s safe to say : THE SMARTER THE TECHNOLOGY, THE DUMBER THE USER.

Google has become really intelligent over the years, but can we say the same about us (looking at you, US of Trump) ? Technology enables access to quasi-infinite knowledge, but it changes my attitude towards this knowledge : instead of retaining it as much as possible, I just consume it when I need it, and pretty much forget it right after I’m done consuming it. My brain knows it’s there, so it’s not flexing the memory muscle. Whenever I need something, I “Google it”, so why memorize anything at all ?

einstein technology generation idiots

Thus knowledge is not in my possession anymore, it’s in the hands of technology (but it was in other hands before too, so my point is not that we’re going backwards), and I access it when I need it. In 10 years, Google managed to cloud my brain.

Google did to knowledge and the service industry what pharma companies did to health, what food companies did to cooking, what the fashion industry did to clothing, … They engineer everything, making my own knowledge unnecessary, unsollicited, thus deprecated. I don’t need to know anything anymore because it’s already manufactured to me.

Low-tech is not dumb

On the first mobile OSs, the app market was essential to fill the gaps. There was always a developer that had thought of an app to patch a missing feature. With today’s latest versions of Android and iOS, all the must-have features are native, making my need for other apps and the app market less important.

I realize today that I do not need to do the following on my phone (some people do) :

  • I do not need to do mobile banking on the go, I can do it on my laptop
  • I do not need to watch a Netflix movie on the go, there’s books and other ways to entertain myself
  • I do not need to be informed in real time of everything that is going on, even if it concerns me, I want to access that information when I am mentally available for it
  • I do not need to be connected to everyone I know permanently : with LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, I’m directly connected to thousands of other people, do I need to know everything they’re up to in real time ?

While I can clearly see that I do not need those services on the go, thus on a mobile phone, I can anticipate that it will be the case for everyone pretty soon. With connected homes and screens, a lot of things we do on mobile will make much more sense at home on a big screen. Apps will be the same, but they will go through your home network, not your mobile. Google’s Instant Apps confirms that trend towards deconstructing the apps’ environment to clear the user’s horizon.

want smart need dumb phone

I think the true value of mobile phones are :

  • GPS-related features for enhanced traveling capabilities
  • Network-related features for enhanced human interactions

Over time, any app that does not evolve around those two axis will be removed from a mobile because it won’t be the best device to process those requests. Mobile devices fit in a pocket and can connect to local networks outside the house, and that’s as low-tech as mobile should be. All other features the internet has to offer should not go through a mobile device, because it pollutes with unnecessary airwave usage, requires complex hardware (critical pollution and economic factor), turns signals into noise (what’s your average number of push notifs in a day?), generates threats to your personal security (breach/interception and data theft), and the brain permanently outsources its problem-solving issues to the machine, making it dumber by the minute.

dumb phone smart people 1

While I was born in a non-digital world, I can still figure out what to do if the internet goes down. But new generations are doomed : if the web goes down, how much knowledge will there be left in their brains to survive? Today, all you need to know to survive is how to turn on your phone and keep it charged.