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Are Smartphones Taking Over Our Lives?

Jenna Kovalsky |
October 2, 2010 | 8:34 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

These days, I find myself defining my life by text messages, Facebook notifications and tweets. Gone are the days when I can get through a day of classes, or even a simple to-do list, without factoring in the time I spend on the Internet and—by extension—on my smartphone.

Iphone 4 (Creative Commons)
Iphone 4 (Creative Commons)
So when I got back to my apartment last Tuesday evening and realized that my HTC Droid Eris was no longer attached to me like the man-made appendage it has become, I knew I was in for a world of hurt.

I’d like to say that a phone is just a phone, but a smartphone does more than just make calls—it juggles my relationships with people. What I learned from its absence these past few days not only forced me to reevaluate how I live my day-to-day life personally, but also made me consider how as a society we have become disturbingly dependent on our mobile devices.

The Nielsen Company reported this past month that smartphone sales account for 25 percent of the U.S. mobile phone market in the second quarter of 2010 and it expects smartphones to become the majority by the end of 2011. Last fall, the Web 2.0 summit brought together key players in the industry that also agreed that mobile devices are the future. Mary Meeker, an influential technology analyst at Morgan Stanley, believes that smartphone technology “is ramping faster than any tech cycle [she’s] seen in modern times.”

As more and more young people buy into the world of smartphones, there seems to be an unspoken expectation for them to be in the know. International, national and local events are all fair game; even events within your circle of friends are not off-limits. Smartphones make the flow of information all the more possible, which is both a beautiful and terrifying thing. The social media and networking sphere has opened up opportunities for us to know things about each other and about the world that generations before us never even dreamed about.

If knowledge is power, the fact that we can access this portal of real-time information from our phones makes us arguably the most powerful, tech-savvy and well-equipped generation to date. We are all plugged in. I know this because applications like Foursquare tell me that we all checked in.

On my android phone, I can keep tabs on the world around me at all times, and I have to admit—there’s something wildly seductive about being able to do that. Go ahead and call me a “Facebook creeper.” It would not be the first time someone’s used that expression about me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone is guilty of doing some “creeping” of their own. Don’t even try to deny it.

The newsfeed feature makes it all too easy to stalk the lives of those around you—even when you don’t necessarily do so with that intent in mind. In fact, more than half the time, I don’t seek out the trivial but socially pertinent information that makes its way to my phone; in an era dictated by iPhones, Droids, Blackberries and Palms, this information makes its way to me. It has taken on a life of its own and rides that hi-tech wave until it reaches the shores of my mind.

Aside from the social updates which can get to be a little much, having the ability to check e-mail and live newsfeeds can have real bearing on our lives. My Twitter feed, for instance, gives me updates to the second. To have breaking news delivered to us on smartphones instantaneously is a luxury that really shouldn’t be taken for granted. Smartphones are game-changers—they’re affecting how we communicate with each other in a significant way.

But although the streamlined features of today’s smartphones are worth their weight in gold, there is a part of me that can’t help but resent them for sucking up so much of my time. While it’s hard not to love that omniscient feeling I get when I have my phone in my pocket, keeping up with the internet whilst on-the-go can be draining and I worry for my mental health when I catch myself checking my Droid all too often.

When the e-mails, text messages and notifications come in one after another and my phone goes off in a frenzy of alerts, I’ve found myself wanting to throw it against the wall. But because modern technology has such a grip on me, I know I could never do that. A victim to the glorious perks of my smartphone, separation anxiety would soon ensue and the withdrawals would kick in.

A word from the wise—if you don’t have a smartphone yet, do everything in your power to restrain. There’s just too much living to be done unplugged. Believe me when I tell you once you go “smart”, you can never really go back.

Reach Reporter Jenna Kovalsky here.

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