The short answer is that the smartphone has become a drug of addiction and, like all addicts, we have become hopelessly dependent.
Although I realise that some might shrug and find this analogy mildly amusing, I would venture to suggest that like other drugs of addiction, smartphones are contributing to the devolution of humanity.
Smartphones are making us dumber, less dexterous, less capable, more insular and less creative.
You have also never known a world without the Internet, social media, messaging or other downloadable apps. To you, these are as essential to your daily functions as hot and cold running water.
That said, you have also never composed a handwritten letter and mailed it to a friend or family member. You probably don’t have very good handwriting because you don’t get much, if any, practice. The art of calligraphy has been declining since the late-1950s, its descent went into overdrive with the advent of the PC, and the final nail was driven in the coffin when texting became the preferred form of communication.
However, it’s not just handwriting and the ability to compose thoughtful well-written letters that have become casualties of the mobile devices age.
Young people now communicate largely by text sound bites – although sound is a misnomer because they don’t actually talk much. They have never known a world where they call each other on the home landline phone and talk to each other’s parents or siblings before being passed on to their friend for a long voice chat. Instead they simply text each other using abbreviated language or they leave posts on Facebook.
Walk into any café populated by young people and chances are you will see a sea of faces looking down into the screens of their smartphones while they tap furiously away with both thumbs. They would prefer to message someone or post something to Twitter or Instagram than talk to the person sitting opposite them.
And while I was driving without my smartphone, I thought that it was fortunate that I knew where I was going because if I was venturing into a strange part of town I would be lost without the turn-by-turn voice instructions from Google Maps. In my younger days, of course, I would never have been lost because I would have planned my route in advance using my hard copy street directory that I always kept in the car.
Reading maps and planning routes may seem so archaic to young digital warriors, but it trained my brain to learn the layout of large parts of my city. Each time I ventured out to a new place, I had to concentrate and learn the route. As a result, I got to know my way around, unlike today where everything is so easy that I don’t have to think because I can rely on a computerised voice to tell me how to get where I want to go.
Of course, in future we won’t have to worry about getting from A to B in a car because it will drive itself and we will all just be passengers. Eventually, we will no longer be able to drive because we will forget how and our cars will not give us the option of taking the wheel anyway.
For those of us who don’t want to drive, the smartphone is such an amazing device because it has already solved that problem – Uber, Ola, Grab, Lyft and a myriad other ride-sharing apps abound. Of course, you need to have enough cash in your digital wallet to pay for the journey and, eventually, the cars that come to pick you up will be driverless.
So, in a few short years, we would have literally gone from being a population of active drivers who know how to navigate their way around town to passive passengers who are happy to let mommy mobile deliver them door to door – if we can afford it.
And for the growing numbers that no longer see the point in even venturing out to the nearby KFC or McDonalds, there is Uber Eats and Deliveroo who will be only too happy to deliver from their door to your mouth.
The other day I awoke to find that, after months of constant nagging, my phone had managed to slip under my guard and upgrade my operating system. I noticed that along with the new software I now had Apple Pay and thus would be able to use my phone in lieu of my credit/debit card.
This, I realised, was yet another peg in the road that leads to the end game – total dependency on our smartphone. We will no longer need, cash, cards, cars, wallets, passports or keys to our home because everything will be accessible from our phone. It sounds wonderful because my benevolent government will never lose track of me, or my personal data – even if I turn my phone off.
There are now very few people in first and second world countries who do not own a smartphone and who do not carry it with them at all times. With the current pace of development — and with 5G around the corner — all of the scenarios described in the preceding paragraphs, as well as a large basket of technologies not even touched upon, will be in force before this decade is out.
Finally, some words of wisdom from long-time anti-smartphones campaigner and American actor Denzel Washington: “If you don’t think you’re addicted, see if you can turn it off for a week.”