Tag Archives: smartphone

Babies And Smartphones

Last week, my family had the pleasure of a visit from my sister-in-law, my niece and my niece’s 18-month-old daughter. We stayed up too late, we ate too much and we laughed a lot.

Watching my grandniece run around the house at a constant 70-degree angle, barely escaping collision after collision reminded me how hard it is to raise little kids. I remembered a ten-year span where my wife and I watched virtually no television that didn’t involve penguins or puppets. I remembered making every furniture purchase while considering what would happen when somebody inevitably faceplanted into it. And I remember eating only cheese pizza because heaven forbid there would be anything touching your pizza except cheese.

But aside from her struggles to stay vertical, I also noticed my grandniece using her mom’s smartphone. A lot. She watched videos mainly, and at one point I saw her tire of a particularly repetitive and annoying children’s YouTube channel called “simple songs” or something like that (I’m certain that it was being streamed from some government-authorized black site torture facility), stop the video, swipe down on YouTube and select a different (but equally grating) song on another channel. Remember, she’s 18 months old. She can only say about six words, and she doesn’t understand a toilet quite yet, but she can use a smartphone. And she doesn’t just watch it – she navigates its interface.

For all of the people out there who say things like “the world was a better place before smartphones” and “I remember when kids used to go out and play” and “people don’t interact anymore,” you might as well save your breath. You aren’t going to change my grandniece’s mind, you’re just going to sound like an old person who is out of touch with the world. (Side note – remember watching Saturday morning cartoons for five hours straight? How is that better than looking at a smartphone? At least you interact with a smartphone once in while. My sister and I barely said a word to one another as we packed Cap’n Crunch into our faces like sugar-addicted hamsters.)

When I pointed this out to her grandmother (my sister-in-law), she told me that my grandniece once located the family iPad, turned it on and navigated to a video of Elmo. By herself. Now I’d like to think my grandniece is a genius (and her parents are both very bright), but I’m confident that you can find 18-month-olds like this all across this fine country of ours.

A few days later, my dad, who turns 80 this year, used his own smartphone to show me some photos of a fishing trip that my brother-in-law recently took (my friends who live in Minnesota and call northern pikes “snakes” would have been mortified). Talk about two ends of the spectrum! The 18-month-old enjoyed the connectedness of a smartphone and so did the 80-year-old.

It’s time to stop pining for the old days, because we’re absolutely, positively never going back. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but it is reality, and it’s probably best if we all get on board with it instead of complaining. That way we can all sing “The Wheels on the Bus” together, which makes it a lot easier to listen to.




Proof That The Web Makes You Smarter

Currently, I am reading a book called Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson. It is a fascinating examination of how humans have used technology over the last few decades. Thompson works hard to make a point that will have librarians around the world cracking their ink-stained knuckles in preparation for a Dewey-fueled dust-up: the internet isn’t making us dumber – it’s making us smarter.

Remember when Gary Kasparov – regarded by many as the greatest chess player of all time – matched wits with IBM’s Deep Blue computer in 1996? Kasparov won the first game, then lost the second a year later. It was the first time a computer had ever beaten a reigning world chess champion, and it was all downhill from there, with our computer overlords consistently beating the pants off of humans after that, no matter how much “creativity” and “gumption” and “outside-the-box thinking” we put into the games.

Paranoid observers immediately predicted a Skynet future full of liquid metal robots, flying cars and slave camps where humans are forced to give elocution lessons to Schwarzenegger-like cyborgs (“The raaaaaaain in spaaaain fowls maaaainy – no, no it’s too haaaad! My braaaaain is hurting so bad!”). Instead, industrious humans realized that our imagination isn’t what sets us apart from supercomputers, it’s our highly evolved knack for cheating.

A few years ago, a highly ranked chess player was tearing up a tournament when somebody noticed that he kept excusing himself for various reasons. “Hmm,” thought a particularly astute judge, “that gent sure seems to be going to the bathroom a lot!” It turns out, he was using his smartphone to research moves. That heel won’t go down in history, but his legacy will. Chess players soon discovered that it was virtually impossible to beat a player that had computer access.

Then, as Thompson tells it, somebody had an idea: let’s teach those pretentious computer jerks a lesson. And they did. Human-computer teams now regularly kick the beans out of computer-only opponents (and human-only opponents as well, it should be said). Deep Blue is so depressed that he hasn’t left his house in years. He just sits around in his pajamas all day watching YouTube videos about rescue dogs.

According to Thompson, the fact that we rely on our smartphones to find information for us hasn’t made our intellects weaker, it’s allowed us to purge our minds of relatively useless information (“Does the kung pao chicken come with rice or not?”) and use that horsepower for cooler things like problem-solving. The internet serves as sort of an external hard drive for our brains.

I’m not saying we can stop educating ourselves. Just the opposite: humans need to educate ourselves on how to make the most of this unbelievable opportunity. Is it really our best use of resources to complain about how today’s youth rely too much on spell check? Why shouldn’t they? Is there really a possibility of some technology-free post apocalyptic future where grammarians match wits in semantic bloodsport? (He split his infinitive! Finish him!) I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure this whole internet thing isn’t a fad, so we might as well make the most of it, don’t you think?

Embrace the cyborg future! Rather than complain about “kids and their phones,” perhaps we should all embrace the new internet-connected reality and teach those whippersnappers a thing or two. Are you with me?