I've got a machine in my pocket that, quite literally, can access the entirety of human knowledge within seconds, allows me to communicate with most of the people in the world, can give me instantaneous updates on the worlds' news, and is the source of easy entertainment if I'm waiting in line at the DMV. (wait, I don't need to renew my plates at the DMV…I can just do it on this same machine!).
And yet we are drowning in conflicting versions of what the truth actually is. We are paranoid that these same machines are easy ways for hackers or the government to spy on us or steal our identities.
Cool: I can settle bar arguments, track my airline flights, read a book, see how well I slept last night, watch a basketball game, text my friends funny cat videos, deposit a check or manage my calendar from just about anywhere.
Not Cool: I get harangued by idiots who know nothing of what they speak. I get advertisements for products that make me blush. I am partially working even when I'm on vacation and I'm constantly reminded I haven't changed my car's oil in a long time.
Cool: I can connect with people I haven't seen in decades, check to see if that picture frame is crooked, hear about a tornado long before it threatens me and have a sandwich created for me before I get to Panera to pick it up (and pay for it without my wallet).
Cool: I don't even carry a wallet anymore.
Not Cool: My phone bill is hundreds of dollars a month.
Cool: I can be sure to get movie tickets before leaving the house and I can put my name into a restaurant's waiting queue without even being there.
But is it worth all of this if I have to get my credit card replaced every 6 months because of some "suspicious transaction" that may be somebody trying to hack my account?
My navigation app can plot out my route to avoid traffic jams and warns me of speed traps; that's awesome. However, it is sometimes wrong and sends me down dead-end streets. And, of course, I don't know how to navigate anywhere using my brain anymore.
Cool: News of big events travels like lightning, keeping us well-informed.
Not Cool: News of big events is often distorted or lacks sufficient clarity, so rumor and misinformation travel just as fast and are often confused with real news.
I can buy anything at anytime with a few clicks on my pocket-machine, but that hardly helps avoid foolish spur-of-the-moment purchases.
Cool or Not Cool: Leaders at the highest levels of government can communicate directly with the people at any time of the day. (I'll leave it up to you to decide if this is a good or a bad thing…:-)
So what's your verdict? Are we better or worse off with these things in our pockets, demanding our constant attention and bringing unimaginable power, convenience and intrusion into our lives? If you could, would you go back to a time when we didn't have them? Back then, did life seem simpler, or did it just seem smaller?
Are we in a world that's become too complicated because of these machines, or are we better able to manage the complications of life because we have these machines?
I asked Siri, the iPhone's personal assistant, "Hey Siri, are we better off with or without smartphones?"
Her answer: "I'm sorry Jim; I'm afraid I can't answer that."
Hmm, I wonder what's she hiding?