Smartphones, stupid users

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Smartphones, stupid users

Just once, wouldn’t you love to be George Clooney in a bar full of beautiful ladies without worrying about your killer pick-up line (“Eh, do you come here often?”)? Just once, wouldn’t you love to leave the house without your phone? These are simple, straightforward questions with a simple, straightforward answer: YES.

Yet when it comes to smartphones, we have been outsmarted by the manufacturers. Even during these troubled economic times, people here can’t get enough of the newly released iPhone. In three months’ time the iPhone generated 400,000 customers for KT, the perennial No. 2 mobile service provider.

It’s the “it” phone to have nowadays. Never mind that it’s impossible to understand the complex service plan or the equally confusing discount scheme. Service providers and manufacturers are so confident in their consumer dominance that bonuses for employees have been guaranteed for the next decade.

They say drugs are addictive. Try a smartphone. Like a kid sucking on a lollipop, our eyes are glued to it, cajoling it till the battery is out. Even when we call it a day and go to bed, we and our phones have become inseparable, like Tom and Jerry.

This has to stop. There was a time when phones were bigger than World War II grenades and nobody, and I mean nobody, carried them into the bathroom. Nowadays, the men’s room is like an amateur radio club. Never before has a human invention conquered humanity to such an extent that it stinks!

And the price we pay for all this is quite steep. You must remember the little check boxes and small print when you signed the contract for your mobile phone service. I actually took the time to read it with a magnifying glass that I brought just for that purpose the last time I switched my service. Surprise, surprise. Ever wonder why you got the all-you-can-buy Cialis text message at midnight? The fine print says that you actually agree that your information will be used for marketing purposes. I tried to refuse to agree to this, and I was lectured that I couldn’t get my service unless I signed. Case closed. That’s how I got my BlackBerry.

With this kind of rampant addiction, it comes as no shock that recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data showed that Korea’s phone rate is higher than the average of the 30 OECD members.

Apart from the financial burden and spam, phones in general have also done away with some basic human etiquette. In the old days, when international phone bills cost a fortune and there were only land lines and pagers with no caller ID, telephone calls involved formality. First, you had to properly introduce yourself and make sure that you didn’t call too late. You actually prayed that the person with whom you wanted to share your inner thoughts would pick up the phone first. Calls after midnight were rarely made. Nowadays, everybody calls anybody at anytime.

Our dependence on the all-you-can-do smartphone has caused other problems. Among BlackBerry users, BlackBerry Thumb is another name for what experts call repetitive stress injury. Some would argue that smartphones have increased our efficiency. I say that even when you should be in a position to make it impossible to respond to your e-mail, smartphones have broken down barriers and raised our stress levels to new heights.

The 1982 movie “Blade Runner” asked the perennial question of whether machines can develop feelings and emotions. For now the answer is no, but circa 2082 I am guessing smartphones will do something along those lines. With any luck, I won’t be around to see that.

*The gwangdae were entertainers in ancient Korea who wandered the land in search of their next joke or adventure.


By Brian Lee [africanu@joongang.co.kr]
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