Ever since some of my friends got smart phones, I never hear from them anymore. I don’t even get responses, often as not.
So I got my first smartphone, a nice Android model (next one damned well better have a real keyboard), uploaded the fat finger touch keypad, and I’m sort of on my way. Except I don’t like it. I like being able to clear my inbox while standing in line at a coffee shop, but that’s fundamentally still a desktop-based operation. I miss my desktop.
And I do respond to e-mails that only require one liners, with the phone, but it’s almost not worth it typing with one finger. Are phones for people who never learned to type? Incidentally, we don’t need them to make calls – Skype and Google Voice handle that. They’re just computers now – little ones.
But here’s the thing: some of my friends never liked computers in the first place. They never did make the desktop a centerpiece in their lives. They would roll their eyebrows at people who do, except now they’re always thumbing on some little device everywhere they go. They’re using computers at least as much as I am, and they never get a break.
So now these folks never boot up a desktop anymore unless they have to. And on these pocket devices, you maybe see the most recent five e-mails without scrolling, and so (out of sight, out of mind), a lot of them never get answered, especially if it’s been a day or more, and if they do get answered, it’s in one liner, lower case, no punctuation, often cryptic, almost never adequate ‘prose’ – if you can call it that. I know – I find myself sending occasional e-mails like that from the damned phone.
I’ve lost a chunk of my social network, because they don’t answer e-mails, don’t look at anything longer than a pocket-sized screen, and they rarely make plans anymore – phones have made them spur of the moment friendly but incapable of making and keeping appointments, following up on things that require more than one action, and generally staying connected to people who aren’t nearly as technologically transient.
And covers of magazines would have you believe “the web is dead”, indicating that people who still use desktops are just antiquated. Hardly. Such predictions are asinine in their reaching for provocation and their blindness to what’s happening with rich, cloud-based, desktop apps.
What’s actually happening, I think, is the polarization between people who mostly work (artists, designers, writers, entrepreneurs) and people who mostly play (people with jobs – that have a more defined start and end time). If you have “free” time, you’re a phone. If you wonder why anyone would want to get free from creating, building, designing, etc., then you’re a desktop. I think this means we’ll find more people like ourselves, but interact less with people of the other stripe.
I do see “designers” and “artists” who spend most of their time “mobile”. These are people who spend a lot of time in coffee shops talking about designing and creating, rather than somewhere actually doing it. That’s a generalization, but one laden with some real observation. Work, for most designers and artists and builders and so on, is basically a solitary act, and one that requires a desktop. Even if they take it mobile with a laptop computer, there’s a reason why the new wide monitor laptops are called “mobile desktops” and why netbooks don’t appeal to people who build in a mobile setting, except as secondary devices.
I’m not trying to pick on the phone obsessed. In fact, I understand them better now. I want to criticize them for always squinting at a tiny device, and twiddling with their thumbs, and rarely generating anything of substance for it. Substance is virtually absent – smart phones have made teenagers of us all. But after all, in my line of work, and for a lot of talented people, we’re glued to a desktop every bit as much. I just don’t like the phone culture, and I know the headlines announcing the death of the web are prophetic nonsense that will scare some business people into making foolish marketing decisions based on sensationalism.
I miss those friends that have disappeared from the web, and gone off into “smart” phone land – the other internet – where everything is instant, and nothing is deep. They’re missing out on my presence, interaction, and contribution as well. There is something we lose when we ditch the desk for the hand. Even just getting together in person isn’t as spontaneous as phones would seem to promise. With a desktop, you’re motivated to calendar, confirm, and get up and go. With a phone, it’s so easy just not to get up off the sofa. So many phoners are now bloating as couch potatoes, because interaction doesn’t require movement. The desk at least structured it somewhat.
Predictably, I’ve made new friends via the desktop that I’d never have via the phone. And the responses are more measured, the exchange more substantial, and they include people who are doing more than dabbling on the internet. We’re also more likely to get together, or at least get together for more than a quick beer in between ball games and snippets of fun-ness that come in bite-sizes delivered to your everywhere remote.
That’s what a phone is, you know, a self-contained remote. It exists primarily for entertainment. In making communication follow you everywhere, it has transformed communication into entertainment also. There’s nothing wrong with being entertained, but I think there’s something lost when that’s all we have left, when there’s nothing else but sharing links to jokes, and 1min videos of cats in awkward positions, and responding with ‘cool dude’.
Phones aren’t helping me develop relationships, they’ve cost me some of the ones I had, and they’re transforming friends into buddies, buddies into acquaintances, and acquaintances into “contacts” that just needlessly fill up my phone. The web, as it’s conceived in the desktop – as primarily a place of work – the kind of work that designs, creates, and builds, is continuing to deliver meaningful relationships that live beyond “lol”.
Indeed, just as phones transform communication into play-ness and fun-ness, the web transforms activity into work – the web inspires people to do something, and have that something to share. Phones are not primarily content creators. You can blog from your phone – people do it – but I’m talking about the general thrust of it. Desktops and the web have people interacting in, for all that it bore similar critique when it became popular in 1994, a more robustly human way, a more extensible way, a way that transforms communication into richly creative experiences instead of merely entertaining ones.
I get all the things I can do with my phone – I’ve got lots of apps – but if you pointed a gun at my phone and my desktop and said “choose”, the phone is going to get whacked.