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The Smartphone And Apps

2013-02-15


My Dad told me that for his high school graduation his mom got him a typewriter. He still stores it in the garage. Back then, he was so excited; his Smith-Corona had automatic backspacing to erase misspelled words! One recent day, as we were perusing through the garage he found his "Dad's Life-in-a-Box", as he calls it, which includes everything from yearbooks, trophies, and college essays -- all of which were written on his trusty manual typewriter. Unbelievable how difficult schoolwork was back in those Stone Ages! His typewriter did get him all the way through graduate school, however.

That was more than 10 years ago, but this anecdote illustrates how far our methods of communication, written and oral, have come in the past 10 years. I hear my parents and other "adults" talk about how email has greatly improved workplace efficiency and our ability to easily keep in touch with distant family and friends. However, even computer-generated email seems to be quickly becoming "old school." I think the greatest advancement in information and communications technology has been the smart phone and, additionally, the "apps" that accessorize these phones.

Unlike computers, you can take a smart phone with you almost anywhere and thus you are able to instantly communicate with others no matter where you are. Whether I need to text my Mom and Dad that I'll be home a little later than planned, or if one needs to keep in touch with his revolutionary brothers and sisters in Egypt or Tunisia through his Twitter account, it's all doable on the cell phone.

The rapidity of information transmission by these devices has transformed the way the world communicates -- from cable news networks, which can bring instant "Breaking News" events from around the world, to parents of students studying abroad who can talk and see their child daily through an iPhone's Face Time application. Smart phones such as the iPhone and Android have created the ability for people to stay connected 24/7 -- with work, family, and friends. This universal connectivity may not always be desirable (for example, when you get home at night and want to relax but feel compelled to check your phone for work or school emails that prevent you from relaxing). For many people, constantly checking for text messages or emails on their phone becomes an addiction, which I don't think is healthy because those people never give their brain any down time. I think too many people are always reacting to these messages rather than initiating their own thinking. Nevertheless, despite the temptations to overuse smart phones, the positive attributes of these devices, I believe, outweigh the disadvantages. If I'm in car trouble on a dark, desolate road, or lonely and want to talk my sister when I'm away at college, I'll be glad that I can instantly get in touch with someone close at the press of a button.

The smaller the device, it seems, the more powerful the information and communications technology is. Over the past decade, we have gone from most people using desktop computers, to laptops and now to hand-held smart phones that can essentially do anything a computer can do. The main advantage is that you can use the cell phone anywhere and at anytime. And, relatively speaking, smart phones are financially accessible to a large portion of the populations around the world. This mobility of information technology has empowered many citizens who otherwise are being repressed by their governments and have no outlet to voice their protests or alert the outside world to the travesties occurring in their country. During the past several months, we've seen an "Arab Spring" where cell phone users are organizing through their Twitter and Facebook accounts and snapping photos of government crackdowns that are transmitted to CNN and other news outlets. These hand held devices, as we've seen in Egypt and Tunisia, are as powerful of weapons as guns and RPGs at forcing dictators to bow to the will of the people. In these recent events, citizens were using their cell phones to instantly communicate with others, keep updated on their progress or setbacks, and lobby the outside world for help. All of this influence in the palm of their hand.

Overnight, the instant communication enabled by smart phones can bring down governments, or a Congressman caught "sexting". That's pretty heady stuff. Most of the time, however, smart phones are used for less exciting and more mundane tasks that we now almost take for granted: using as an engagement calendar, keeping track of school assignments, sending files and attachments, texting our friends and family, listening to music, playing games, and searching the internet. As I write this, my brother is reading his homework assignment he forgot to bring home off his teacher's website! No more "dog ate my homework" excuses these days! Here's a typical week using my cell phone: texted my parents twice about what time I'd be home from work; downloaded four songs from iTunes; used my GPS app to find the location of a restaurant; talked with a friend who lives across the country; and used my email account to confirm some housing choices at the college I'll be attending in the Fall. Most of these items I undertook while lying on my bed! Now that I think of it, smart phones are redefining the meaning of the "lazy teenager".

Seriously, smart phones are powerful tools that are increasing society's productivity. Instant communication enabled by these devices speeds up decision-making for businesses and delivers immeasurable amounts of information to users in virtually any category one seeks to obtain. This advancement in information and communications has the ability to make our planet seem smaller and give cultures the knowledge to understand one another better, which hopefully can reduce tensions in the world. Or, you can simply use it to make a dinner reservation on your way home from work or school!

As proud as My Dad was about his bulky Smith-Corona,I'll take my iPhone. No doubt he will too!