- Chuck Gray
Even though it may not seem like it to me, smartphones are not actually a necessity of life. Shocker, right? I love the suckers! To see if my affinity for all things “smart” was shared by my peers, I conducted a highly scientific survey of whichever of my Facebook friends chose to respond, asking them whether they owned a smartphone and if not, why? A surprising (to me) number of them confessed they did not own a smartphone. So, if you’re on the fence about whether to purchase a smartphone, allow me to push you over to the side of not with the following list.
Buying and owning a smartphone is expensive. If you go with a standard two-year contract you might be getting the smartphone for “free” when you first go to the store, but you’ll be paying far, far more than the device is actually worth over the course of your contract. For example, when I was experimenting with thirty-day refund guarantees from various carriers, T-Mobile would have charged me well over $100 more for a Nexus 4 than if I’d bought the smartphone directly from Google.
That’s just the equipment. The service is ridiculously expensive. On AT&T’s site, right now, I can get a used iPhone 4 for a penny, but their 300MB data plan paired with unlimited talk and text is $70 a month. 300MB is a paltry amount of data, hardly enough if you plan even moderate use of the device on the go. Let’s say you want to go with the only-barely-more-reasonable 1GB of monthly data—that adds $15 a month. Then you’re up to $85, but with taxes and whatever other baloney service charges and government fees and whatever else, you’re likely looking at around $100 every month.
You could, like me, go the prepaid route. I use Virgin Mobile’s $35 per month plan with 300 minutes of talk, 200 texts, and 2GB of “full-speed” data. With tax, it’s $37.25 every month with no surprise charges. Works for me. On the other hand, with prepaid carriers such as Virgin Mobile or Cricket or Boost, you have to buy your smartphone out-right, which means laying down at least $100 for a smartphone that’s barely useable, or in excess of $200 for a smartphone that you might actually want. I paid $350 for my Samsung Galaxy S III. That initial price is one major barrier to entry for prepaid users. And, of course, customer service for prepaid stinks. Most prepaid carriers do not have actual stores you can go to for support, and those that do don’t have an especially great reputation.
No matter how you slice it, owning a smartphone isn’t cheap. And speaking of . . .
Desktop and laptop PCs are items we purchase and stick with for several years. Unless you’re a gamer, programmer, or graphic content creator of some sort, PCs are like your refrigerator or your microwave. They are there to stay for as long as they work properly. Smartphones are consumable items. Planned obsolescence, disposable design, and a steady stream of new devices ensures that we never spend much more than two years with any particular model before moving onto the next best thing. And paying quite a bit for it.
Smartphones are miniature computers. They are remarkably power-efficient given everything they are capable of, but even moderate users like me can find themselves having to recharge in the middle of the day. Some people solve this by switching the device off when it’s not in use, but if your only phone is your smartphone, that’s not an appealing solution. In power outages, that’s a major liability. Though they are a dying breed, most feature phones (or “dumb” phones as they are becoming known) can hold a charge for considerably longer than an average smartphone. If your primary use for a phone is talking, smartphones aren’t your best option.
Before the first iPhone went into full production, Steve Jobs was insistent on having a screen that would not easily scratch and was still affordable. That meant it had to be glass. All the smartphones that came after that initial iPhone have copied this design. And even the toughest glass from the likes of Corning will shatter under the right conditions. Not to mention that the rest of the smartphone's body is built for appearance and slenderness, not for rugged use. Sure, you can purchase a protective case, but those things can be truly expensive, running $50 or more depending on the quality and manufacturer. A regular feature phone is a good bit more durable than a smartphone any day.
Sleeplessness and more
Studies (and personal experience) suggest heavy use of electronics with lighted screens before bedtime can have a negative impact on the quality of sleep, or indeed, the ability to fall asleep at all. If you’re one of these people I’ve heard about with “discipline” who can exercise “moderation,” this might not be an issue, but a large number of smartphone users will stay glued to their devices even after turning off the lights.
Whether platonic or romantic, smartphones can positively kill relationships. Your spouse had a bad day at work, sure, but they won’t mind if you play Angry Birds or text or check your email or Facebook while they unburden themselves. Right? I’ve also read about people meeting up for dinners or other social gatherings during which they all turn their smartphones over to one party member for the duration of the gathering so as not to be distracted—a good policy, but it’s sad that it’s necessary. None of this is the fault of the technology, of course, but when we can take all of our work, entertainment, and social networks with us no matter where we go, we tend to let it consume all our attention, often to the detriment of our relationships.
This, like relationships or sleeplessness, is a matter of self-discipline. For me, it’s far easier to manage, because I enjoy living quite a lot, and I don’t want to die or kill anyone in a terrible car accident caused by me texting or dialing when behind the wheel. I’d think most people would have enough common sense that this didn’t happen, but the headlines and a few acquaintances prove me wrong time and again. Smartphones and driving are as deadly a combination as intoxication and driving but far more common. It’s not like a smartphone is a bottle of Jack, so people don’t tend to think of them as dangerous when driving. Still, cell phones of all kinds are linked to over a quarter of automobile crashes in the United States.
I can write from my own experience on this one. See, I’m a gamer. Back in 2009 I purchased my first iPod Touch, which is essentially an iPhone without the phone. It runs all the same apps and games. And unlike games on consoles or PCs, these things are cheap. Most cost between $1-$5, and there are tons of new ones coming out all the time. I’ll admit, I spent a good bit more than I should have before I realized just how stupid, stupid, stupid I was being. But apps don’t have to be the issue. With the tap of a single button, you can instantly buy music, tv shows, movies, books, and magazines and charge them all to the credit card associated with your Apple account. Take it from me, if you have poor impulse control or are prone to retail therapy, smartphones can spell certain doom.
In early October of this year, a college student was shot and killed on a San Francisco commuter train. According to police reports, no one noticed the man was holding a gun until it was too late because everyone's attention was consumed by their smartphones.
Let me stop right there. This was obviously meant to be a sensational headline. Smartphones obviously didn’t kill anyone. Nobody pays anybody any attention on trains, buses, and subways. If it wasn’t smartphones, then it would be books or newspapers or Walkmen or what have you. There is no causality between shooting deaths and smartphones.
This is merely an extreme way of illustrating that smartphones can become our entire worlds if we let them.
Having written all this, I still think smartphones are inherently positive technology. Prices need to be better regulated. Our own overuse of them needs to be addressed in a serious way. And I believe, like PCs, they will become a ubiquitous technology in the next few years. We will use them for paying at check-outs rather than credit cards, for powering wearable technology such as Google glass and smart watches, and for interacting with The Internet of Things. But for the moment, they are still luxuries at best.