The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

April 24, 2014

Trouble: It starts with T, rhymes with P and that stands for phone

ENID, Okla. — I used to snort derisively when I saw people sitting in public places, or walking down the street, heads bowed as if in prayer, but instead concentrating intently on their smartphones.

I would opine loudly to my bride that I feared ensuing generations would be born with a natural hump in their upper spines from their parents spending so much time with their heads down, texting, tweeting or Facebooking on their phones.

Oh, and they would have oversized thumbs and their visages would be set in a permanent scowl, the result of too much time staring at their phones. I called it Facebook face.

What a waste of time, I would grumble, what a misuse of brain power. They would  be far better off keeping their heads up and actually talking to another human being rather than looking to see what is trending, or to “like” the latest cute cat video someone has posted.

I have a confession to make. I no longer snort derisively at these people, or snicker at them under my breath — or over it, for that matter.

I are one, er, am one.

Since last fall, my bride and I have been owners of smartphones. We are not alone, it seems. According to a Nielsen study, more than half of all Americans over the age of 55 now own a smartphone, up 10 percent from earlier this year. This represents a milestone. For the first time, the majority of those in all age groups now own a smartphone.

 I didn’t want mine, at first. I wanted to return it, to go back to my old faithful, a flip phone that was flip-challenged because of a broken hinge, and with which I could not only make and receive phone calls, but take photos, as well, though I didn’t have a clue what to do with them.

Then I made the mistake of playing around with the thing and, boom, I was hooked. Now I can hardly be without it. It’s rather frightening how dependent one can become on a carefully molded glob of plastic stuffed with intricate and incomprehensible circuitry.

It is a clock, a compass, a flashlight, a calculator, a calendar, a camera (both video and still), a TV,  it can give you a stock quote, alert you when the weather gets bad and provide you with sports scores.

It will record your voice, organize your day, plan your shopping trip, serve as your airline boarding pass or your hotel confirmation.

You can surf the Web, text, tweet, Facebook and utilize all other social media sites. Oh, yeah, and it also can be used to make and receive phone calls.

It is like the world’s best Swiss Army knife, without a blade. And you can also play games on it, which leads to its own set of problems.

Those games are maddening and highly addictive. Who knew I, a reasonably mature human adult, would spend hours trying to crush candy?

More than once a quiet evening in our home has been shattered by a frustrated groan from my bride, after she has failed, once again, to advance to the next level in Candy Crush Saga.

Parents worry about their children spending too much time on their smartphones, and rightfully so. Were the classic musical and film “The Music Man,” written today, the “P” word about which Professor Harold Hill warned the good people of River City, Iowa, would be phone, not pool.

But, speaking as a more seasoned soul who has become tangled in the clutches of smartphone addiction, perhaps it is children who should be more concerned about their parents.

Steven Sokols, CEO and founder of a telecommunications company called FreedomPop, has compiled a list of signs your child is mature enough for a smartphone.

But perhaps similar criteria should be applied to more veteran members of the human race.

First, can you view your child’s social media profiles, or do they keep them hidden from you? And what about your parents? Are there sexy selfies from their last senior citizens’ group picnic on their Facebook pages? Are they exchanging off-color jokes on Twitter with their golfing buddies? Lay down the law, now.

Are your children responsible enough not to lose their belongings? What about mom and dad? Are they constantly misplacing their reading glasses, their car keys, the dog? If so, they will do no better with a smartphone, as I can attest, because at this particular moment I am not certain where I left mine.

If your child is mature enough to sit down and rationally discuss smartphones — the cost and their responsible use, among other topics — they are mature enough for a phone.

The same goes for your parents. Do they get all defensive when you confront them about burning through all the allowable data in their plan in a matter of hours playing World of Warcraft online with their out-of-state friends?

Does your child understand the limits you place on their smartphone use? What about the folks? Did they spend all of Easter dinner sitting in a corner playing slots on their phones, or watching the latest episode of “Game of Thrones,” or checking the baseball scores, rather than indulging in small talk with the rest of the family around bites of ham and deviled eggs (which Aunt Sue colored blue and green in honor of Easter)?

Is your child aware of the dangers of technology, especially for younger users?

How about older users? There are thumb cramps from non-stop texting, eye strain from hours of watching sports highlights on a tiny screen, and then there is neck soreness from continuously having your head down staring at the confounded thing.

Remember, smartphones can be dangerous, particularly in the hands of someone 55 or over, unless, of course, they have a tech-savvy teenager in the house to keep them under control.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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