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Crosstalk: Are we smarter than our phones?



My distaste for cellular phones is long standing, and I have never hesitated to argue that yes, we are all of us smarter than our “smart” phones. Absolutely no question.

But I’m beginning to have my doubts.

I recently was forced to upgrade from my very first cellular phone, an Apple iphone 4, because it had lost its mind and was no longer responding to the on/off button despite the repeated thumps, jabs, bangs and hits that I had been using to “wake it up” in the morning or shut it off at night.

I had intended to get the closest match in terms of screen size and cellular stupidity, but was lured by the salesman’s assurance that the newest phone, I believe it was an 8, incorporated significant improvements to the camera.

Now, I don’t often use a cell phone as a camera, but when I do I need a pretty good image.

My old phone did surprisingly well, given its diminutive lens, microscopic image sensor and complete lack of any controls.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed using my phone’s camera for just that reason: After 30 years of building my technical expertise as a newspaper photographer, it was refreshing to use a camera that I couldn’t adjust or manipulate settings on even if I wanted to.

It did what it did, and if it didn’t work that was that. No adjusting lenses, poring through menus or synchronizing flashes.

No photographer can resist a better camera, however, so I went with the newest phone.

That is one of the reasons I am beginning to question my intelligence, as compared to that of the “smart phone.”

Yes, the camera has indeed improved. It lets you lock and adjust exposure, shoot panoramas and even has a self-timer. Even more impressive is its video capabilities: I didn’t have to install a third-party video “app” to remove the “jitter” of hand-held video, and the “high speed” or “slow motion” feature was impressive as well.

Great camera.

But when I dialed my first call, it went like this:

“Hello?”

“Hi, it’s me. I was just calling to see how my new ‘smart phone’ works.”

“Hello? Are you there? I can’t hear you.”

“HI, I’M TESTING OUT MY NEW PHONE,” I shouted.

“What?”

Eventually I figured out that if I held the phone with the speaker at my ear, the microphone extended so far beyond my chin that I could not be heard. If I spoke into the microphone, the speaker was up by my temple.

So now I just text people.

The other reason I am beginning to question our intelligence in relation to our “smart” phones is the shear stupidity of allowing a very wealthy corporation to monitor us, hold our “wallet” and manage our “health,” all from applications which cannot be deleted. I tried, and not only can I not delete them, they continue to inform me that Siri is here to help, and has all sorts of suggestions; I am not using voice control; and my wallet is empty.

My phone also assures me “Going to bed and waking up at the same times every day are keys to healthy sleep,” and that “Bedtime can help.”

Good grief.

How much of my life is being monitored I don’t know, but unlike my old phone, which played dead until I smacked its “on/off” button against a solid object a few times, this phone wakes up at the slightest hint of life, or none at all. And I think it goes out alone at night like a wayward teenager.

Of course, I could just power it off when I don’t need it. Will I? Yes, if I’m truly am smarter than my “smart” phone.

— Mark Gibson

I can’t believe this. Mark and I promise to behave and not delve into hot-button issues during the holiday season to spare you all angst and then tantalizing subjects keep arising: Jerusalem, net neutrality and FBI corruption.

Oh man.

But I will keep my word and stick to this lame subject: Are we smarter than our smartphones?

Nope. The end.

Haha. Okay, I’ll be nice and play along...

One of my favorite pastimes at home has been to call up Siri and then insult her because she always has a chastisement or a good reply.

That is about as good as it gets for me with my smartphone that usually makes me look like an idiot.

You can teach an old dog new tricks, it just would be nice if she mastered one before you were onto the next…

I resent my phone. And, even worse, I resent other people’s phones. I am tired of being around folks who are trying to carry on a conversation while they are texting, emailing and continually distracted by the dings, pops and other sounds emanating from their umbilical cord.

After realizing the addictive nature of smartphone use, I began leaving mine in the car or at home when I had the opportunity to spend time with a real person. It was difficult to disconnect, which was troubling.

What if the car broke down and I needed to call for help? What if one of my family members or a close friend had a medical emergency?

Only by recalling a time when my phone was anchored to the wall and still I survived was I able to realize the need to go through withdrawal.

I’m totally intimidated by my iPhone, except when it comes to the emojis, I love them. The steaming pile of (not allowed) is my favorite and I use it as a punctuation for every thought, good or bad. Two piles mean that I am very happy or angry, discernible by the subject matter. Three means I’m over the top.

Of great irritation to me is that my iPhone 7 doesn’t have a jack for the million pair of ear buds I have laying around, or the sync line in my car. And the only plug-in on the phone has to work for both the buds and the charger, forcing you to make tough choices when you are driving through unknown territory, but bored to tears and wanting to hear some tunes.

To solve this dilemma, you have to purchase a splitter that can accomodate both needs, or upgrade your car or speaker system.

To make smartphone use even more interesting, health experts are now warning people to keep them at least arm’s length from your body. Research has suggested that cellphones can increase our risk for brain cancer and tumors, low sperm count, headaches, as well as impaired memory, hearing and sleep.

I guess we could carry them at the end of our selfie stick.

Don’t expect anyone in this addictive society to follow the advice of researchers. We are likely to become even more reliant upon our smartphones when they have predictive power to forecast the next purchase a consumer will make, as well as analyze user actions using available data.

Using contextual data from a user’s phone, the device will draw conclusions and take action in the user’s interest. For example, the phone will wake you up early for a meeting if there is heavy traffic, or send an apology to your boss.

Consumers are expected to let their phones handle mundane tasks, such as sending birthday greetings.

Sigh. A certain emoji comes to mind as my opinion about all this.

— RaeLynn Ricarte



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