Don’t Put Your Smart Phone Away!


When this image popped up in my Facebook feed around 12 months ago, I reposted it with a comment like “Ah, see it’s not just us!” Instantly I was ashamed by my immature and superficial response to what I perceive as a complicated issue; the use of screens in the modern world, particularly by my own generation, GenY.

Sadly this is the way of the media today. Short, sharp sound bites, catch phrases and images are an acceptable way to engage in discussion and debate. On Australian television’s The Chaser’s Media Circus (Episode 4) they mentioned political sound bites of years past, lasting in excess of a minute. Equal blame needs to fall on users who elect to consume such a style of media as much as it does on the producers themselves.

In 2014, NPR conducted an April Fools’ Day experiment to gauge how many people actually read an article posted on Facebook before weighing into the discussion in the comments’ section. Unsurprisingly hundreds of people had an opinion on America’s literary habits based solely on the headline without opening the link to see they were part of a prank, or to read the comments of those before them.

Back to our 1960s photos and back to screens. There are two main concerns I have when discussing screen use and its impact on any range of things from intelligence to social ability. Firstly the term ‘screens’ is too generic to engage in any substantive critique and, heaven forbid, any thorough academic research. A screen can be a television, tablet, phone or computer. Secondly, the emphasis on the technology rather than the activity it facilitates is a pet hate of mine. To use two real life examples, I once sat next to a guy on a Melbourne tram who was looking at a website of pornographic images on his iPhone, at 5pm in the afternoon. In contrast, whilst completing my Masters thesis, I spent much of my tram time reading journal articles on my iPad. Should we really compare tram time screen time by critiquing the time we spend in front of our Apple devices or is it more sensical to ignore the type of device and focus on the tasks we use them for?

As everyone knows, smartphones are much more than a phone of the past. By way of reference, I arrived in Boston from Melbourne almost three weeks ago and used the phone function on my iPhone for the first time today. My iPhone and tablet have essentially made obsolete my book, DVD and CD collections, my newspaper subscription and my Melways (Melbourne’s map publication). In a travel sense, a series of Boston travel apps have negated the need for a Lonely Planet and Facebook has made sending postcards a superfluous task. You may even be reading this blog on a ‘screen’ device. Ultimately, much like a 1960s newspaper, the smartphone/tablet has something for everyone. Whether you’re a fan of the world news, wanting to find out today’s weather or seeking a laugh from the day’s comics, your smart phone has it all. By way of example, the newspaper, printed overnight, gives the day’s weather forecast in simple terms; a minimum and maximum forecast and a pictorial representation of whether there will be sun, rain, cloud, wind or snow. My ACCUWeather app for Boston provides current temperatures, humidity, UV, Wind, precipitation, cloud cover data just to name a few as well as hourly forecasts. (You should really get on board!) Whilst ACCUWeather is not the ultimate use of an iPhone, nor is it data that we essentially need to know or can manipulate however it does at a simple level exemplify how screens can enhance and enrich a traditional experience and thus should not be universally attacked.

All of this was inspired by an article in The Guardian, the online version of course, discussing mobile technology and art. It includes a quote from Ruth Mackenzie, interim CEO and creative director of the Space, a digital platform for the Arts available in the UK. “The average person looks at their mobile 100 times a day…What if, instead of playing Candy Crush, you did art?” Again, my sound bite, superficial response was “Yes, that’s what I’ve been saying!”

My initial post went into some detail as to how to differentiate and encourage what I consider meaningful and useful screen time over “Candy Crush” time particularly in regards to museums. However, it is impossible to do so in a practical way in this forum. Ultimately, what I’m encouraging today is an open minded approach to screen related discussions and I hope I have provided some food for thought.


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