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Smartphones: Finding a Balance

Smartphones are prominent on campus nowadays. Devices such as the iPhone and the Blackberry are potent, versatile machines of interaction, information, and entertainment. But do they make us happier?

Evolved from the basic cellphone, smartphones are at their cores tools of communication. But the smartphone is a platform for more kinds of conversation than just phone calls.

“The percentage of people who use their phone for only voice communications drops from 14 percent among new [non-smartphone] phone owners to 3 percent of smartphone owners,” reported The Nielsen Company, a consumer statistician group, in March 2010. Texting, instant messaging, and access to social networking sites such as Facebook give smartphone owners multi-leveled interaction in a single device.

“I use [my smartphone] every day,” said junior Rachel Roberts. “I can check my email, Facebook, bus times, weather, and do regular phone stuff all with one device.”

“[My smartphone] makes communication simpler, and I’m able to pass the time interesting Apps and games,” said sophomore Max Bayer.

However, some Tam students think more is actually less when it comes to communication. The smartphone encourages people to communicate. But are the kinds of communication done via smartphone depersonalizing relationships and making people less happy? “People have definitely become dependent on technology as opposed as being able to communicate face to face,” said senior Ivy Ryan, an iPhone owner. “People fall back upon texting and calling because they think it’s simpler than having a face to face conversation.”

Sophomore Ali Macmillan, a Blackberry owner, agreed. “I think [the smartphone] puts a wall between people and the emotions they have, and real communication,” she said. “[Talking through texting and instant messaging] cuts off facial expressions, and the intention of everything; it really dulls down how people communicate.”

Freshman Sam Henkel commented on the paradoxes of her parallel online and reallife relationships with people. “It’s kind of annoying, because you can be best friends with someone over Facebook and over text, and then not even really know them,” she said.

“It’s one thing to send a text or answer a phone call, but [using a smartphone] becomes disrespectful once you’re constantly on your phone and having a conversation with someone else who isn’t there,” said senior Kit Larson. “People should choose to live in the moment and cut the cord between themselves and their smartphones. Smartphones definitely strain my relationship with a few friends.”

Most students who have smartphones use their devices for portable Internet access, the effortlessness of which, many told the Tam News, they enjoy. “It makes everything a lot easier… if I want to check Home Access, I don’t have to go to a computer, I can just go to my phone,” said junior Johnny Wachtel.

Indeed, the word “easier” was used by many to describe their lives with smartphones. But is easier access to the Internet a good thing? Interestingly enough, out of more than 30 students interviewed, almost none shared an example of how their smartphone helped them with schoolwork.

 

Junior Sander Lutz was the only student to mention using smartphones to learn, and he cited the smartphone as a negative influence. “The Internet makes all these things easily accessible, maybe. But then you depend a lot less on knowledge or [self-learned] information. You don’t have to learn something that you can just look up instead,” he said.

Henkel echoed Lutz’s remarks. “[Smartphones] make people lazy. We’re not going to actually go and check something when we can just do it on our iPhones,” she said.

So-called “Internet addiction,” or the compulsive need to check the World Wide Web repeatedly, is another possible risk of buying a smartphone. “I’ve seen a lot of growth in the field of Internet addiction,” said Kimberly Young, clinical director for the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery in an interview with Medill Washington. “More research and studies [are] trying to understand it better. … It’s a global problem.”

The Internet connectivity of smartphones, while not necessarily a one-way road to addiction, can be a distraction from other parts of life.

“I’ve wasted a lot of time on my iPhone. Having Facebook on my iPhone definitely prevents me from doing [more] productive things,” said Ryan.

Junior Alaina Waluk disagreed. “I have a lot of access to the internet [with my iPhone]. Before I had one I thought I’d use it all the different apps a lot more, but I don’t,” she said.

While some students find constant internet access to be helpful and enlightening, others see it as a destroyer of attention spans.

“If [my friends and I] get into a stump and want to figure something out I’ll look it up,” said senior Steven Rodriguez. “But yeah, smartphones and technology are ruining the future… even though they’re so cool. Our generation has no patience for anything, and we all get irritated. Our parents’ generation had to look things up in books, or ride bikes to the library and just do all this crazy long stuff to find some info. Now we can just Google it, the Internet is in our pocket.”

Apps are another utility of smartphones with debatable significance; they entertain, but at what cost to the productivity of the user?
“[Smartphone users] waste an incredible amount of time on games,”

“I have about 70 apps. They can definitely be very distracting, if you’re bored with nothing else to do… [They don’t] necessarily [keep me from doing other things higher on my priority list] because games are kind of a mindless thing; I don’t actually put a whole lot of time and effort into my games,” said Wachtel.

“[Smartphone users] waste an in- credible amount of time on games,” said Lutz.

Passing time is, though, only one prospective use of the smartphone. Smartphones can, with enough drive and the right Apps, be employed for anything. At the end of the day, are smartphones a good thing?

Junior Trevor Guyton had a less- than-positive view of the device. “[Smartphones] have horrible batteries, their batteries are bad for the environment, they don’t charge fast, they’re too heavy, the screen cracks too fast, they’re too big, their operating system is unusable, they are laggy, they promote big screens and clarity but once you smudge the screen it’s awful. It’s too expensive, and it’s impossible to get good internet connection,” he said.

Junior Kel Mandigo-Stoba, on the other hand, praised the smartphone.“It allows people to stay communicated over far distances. It allows people to get accustomed to technology because it’s moving so quickly – with certain smartphones like the iPhone updates allow you to go along with the flow of things pretty well. They also allow people to express themselves, because you can do all sorts of stuff on an iPhone. For example, you can take pictures on your iPhone and write books on your iPhone,” he said.

“[Teenagers] would do better without [smartphones],” said senior Michael Bennett. “Conversations would be more thorough, people would invent more ways to be entertained, and people would become more creative.”

Written by Aaron Newman. This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue.




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