We’ve Hit Peak Smartphone, and It’s All Downhill From Here

Apple, Samsung and a longed-for return to sanity

By Kirk Miller

 
Smartphone
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09 September 2016

I have smartphone fatigue.

I’ve thought more about cell phones in the last week than I have in my entire life.

Let’s re-examine the last few days, shall we?

• The Galaxy Note 7, released Aug. 19 and immediately heralded as the best phablet ever made, has now been deemed an explosion risk (basically a hoverboard for your pocket) and all of the million sold so far have been recalled. They might even get banned from airlines.

• Then, along came Apple. Besides waxing poetic about creating a none-more-black phone (“Crafted from bead-blasted aluminum ... the high-gloss jet black finish was achieved through a new feat of design engineering”), the company also crowed about the “courage” it took to remove the headphone jack — which might have been done for design reasons, or for making the phone water-resistant ... or to allow Apple more control than ever over how you enjoy your music.

(Other problems? Charging your phone and using the Lightning port for wired headphones at the same time will require this ridiculous dongle.)

• Finally, Office Depot announced they’d reward students who don’t use their smartphones during class. Via an intrusive app that tracks your habits.

This is it. The moment when the whole smartphone revolution turns totally dumb. The purpose of a phone is not to keep you from perishing in a fiery inferno, or to blow your mind by reinventing the color black, or to reward you for not using it.

It should just do its job.

And then you shouldn’t think about it.

Look, I’m guilty of giving my life over to smartphones. I was the guy who begrudgingly purchased his first cell phone a few months after 9/11 “for emergency use only” — and then just six years later essentially paid a friend to stand in line to get me the first iPhone. I’ve been dazzled by every new feature, release and gimmick presented to me.

I’ve cycled through Palm Treos, a Sidekick and every iteration of the iPhone — and, vicariously, through a series of Android phones, thanks to friends and girlfriends too stubborn for Apple.

And yet, what do I use a phone for? I make maybe five personal calls per month — one to my parents (yes, I should call more), one apiece to people who deal with my finances or my health, and a couple of work-related calls when the office gets too loud.

The rest of the time? In order: non-participatory Twitter perusal, Two Dots, Google Maps (which loves suggesting subways that aren’t running on weekends), “where are we meeting?” texts, Spotify, Stitcher and Kindle. All of which are getting increasingly more buggy with every update.

Outside of the Kindle app (I read more now than ever) and more convenient directions (save for the subway suggestions), I could do without all of this.

So, I’m suggesting a few alternatives.

  1. Follow the lead of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, and buy a flip phone. “I don’t think I want to be connected 24/7, and this phone is maybe sort of a reminder that you don’t have to be connected,” Luck noted recently, despite having just received a $32 million bonus. “And it’s nice to get away. It’s nice to turn your phone off.”
  2. Buy something cool and extremely minimalist, like The Light Phone (which, of course, is months late in launching) or the preferred cell phone for seniors, Jitterbug, which offers extremely big buttons, a speaker option, a power button and two buttons marked yes and no — that’s it.
  3. Buy nothing and write mildly sanctimonious articles about not owning a cell phone (sample: “The phone becomes an indispensable talisman of safety. But it is just that, a talisman, no more effective at warding off imagined evils than a rabbit's foot or a security blanket.”)

Meanwhile, my two-year “lease” is up from Sprint, meaning I’m free to get another phone, and yes, I’ll undoubtedly get myself an iPhone 7 — even though my 2014-era iPhone 6 would probably work just as well, without requiring me to use dongles or buy another set of wireless headphones. (Then again, I could just use these.)

So yes, I'll “upgrade.” But deep down I'll know that word no longer applies. Phones are good enough. There's no more upgrading. Just more of the same...in various new shades of black.

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