In many ways, I hate smart phones. They’re time suckers. They offer constant temptation for distraction. They’re largely used in the name of staying socially connected, but they too often lead their users to mentally check out of social situations that are happening right in front of their faces (well, behind the phones that are in front of their faces). They’ve become like extra appendages or, for some, more like vital organs. I have friends who won’t even put their phones away during dinner with people with whom they allegedly wish to spend meaningful time. I don’t mean they keep the phone in their lap or resting flat on the table; I’m talking phone in one hand, fork in the other. It’s infuriating.
I guess my beef is more with how many choose to use their smart phones than with the phones themselves. In fairness, the phones themselves, as well as their cousins tablets and e-readers, do some pretty amazing, useful things that are worthy of being celebrated. As a book jockey*, I regularly interact with people who use their phones and other high-tech gizmos to read and listen to books. While that’s clearly the best use of e-devices, there’s obviously a litany of other praiseworthy, helpful features they offer. You can use them to quickly and easily make banking transactions, get traffic information and directions, find restaurants near you, check your e-mail, look up the Spanish word for drinking straw**, and confirm how many Baldwin brothers there are***. These devices offer extreme convenience beyond what a lot of us ever thought would be possible, or at the very least probable. I’m all about convenience and harnessing technological advancements to increase it, and so is the library as a whole. We’ll soon be offering a mobile app that will allow patrons to manage their accounts and access the library’s online resources from anywhere. If you’d like to request a book from our catalog from your bathtub, or the train, or a box, or with a fox, you’ll be able to do so lickety-split. Yes, smart phones are wonderful, and for a lot of reasons, I love them.
But I’ll probably always hate them just a little bit. Despite the desirable luxuries they afford, some highly practical and others highly entertaining-yet- frivolous (I’m looking at you, Candy Crush), a bitter part of me can’t help but see them, at least in part, as crutches that distract and insulate us from our immediate reality. This criticism would be less valid if more people used their phones “responsibly,” which to me means “in moderation and in a way that doesn’t cause users to forgo experiencing meaningful in-person contact.” I don’t mean to be too preachy and go all Spider-Man on you with some power and responsibility spiel, but this is currently one of my biggest peeves. As technology continues to advance and sorcery like Google Glass is unleashed upon the world, we’ll be at risk of allowing techie toys to remove us even further from reality. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should embrace technological advancements and enjoy the wondrous things they make possible; we’d be foolish not to. At the library, we’d be especially remiss not to support and facilitate such things. However, I think we’d all be equally foolish to let our ever-expanding e-existence eclipse our level of involvement with and appreciation for physical spaces and people. Let’s stay real, people, and use technology as a supplement rather than a substitute. Things like our nifty new library app will certainly enhance your library experience, but in most cases, they can’t, won’t, and aren’t meant to completely take the place of the real, plain ol’ non-virtual world. Enjoy your gadgets, but put them down long enough to be present wherever you are in both body and mind. And for the love of Pete, put your phone away during dinner.
*I borrowed this term from Leslie Knope of “Parks and Recreation,” though I’m using it in a positive way, while she used it as an insult. I’d link to a clip, but there’s some light profanity. If you’re curious, just Google “book jockey” and you’ll find it.
** It’s “popote.”
*** I realize this constitutes playing fast and loose with the words “praiseworthy” and “helpful.” The answer, by the way, is four: Alec, Daniel, Billy, and Stephen. I always forget Daniel for some reason.