Smart Phones

A break from the music stuff this time with some observations on the world of technology…

There was a story on the news recently which reported that 66% of people in the UK now own a smart phone. This is an increase from 39% back in 2012. A statistic like this would have us all believe that the Android, iPhone, Blackberry or Windows mobile phone is now an essential part of everyday life… or is it?

My situation is that it makes sense for me to be on a contract with my mobile. The inclusive minutes & texts save me money compared to if I were on pay-as-you-go. However, I do not need a smart phone, and I can’t believe I’m that unusual in this respect. Never the less, walk into any mobile phone shop and try getting a “basic” phone – one which is primarily built for calls & SMS messages – on a pay monthly contract, and you’ll see the problem. This kind of phone just isn’t readily available any more.

How many more people are out there, like me, who don’t need the extra functionality of a smart phone but are forced into owning one because that’s all that’s easily available? Think for a moment if this were the case with any other electrical appliance… say, coffee makers.

Despite being an Englishman to my core, I have no real love for our national drink, tea. Coffee is my favoured beverage & my requirements in a coffee maker are very simple… I just need strong, black filter coffee. I have no need for a machine which can produce cappuccino, frappaccino, mocha, triple-shot skinny Americano or flat white (whatever that is). But if I could only buy a coffee maker which did all this additional stuff, I would be part of the statistics which “prove” we were all becoming addicted to these metropolitan poseur brews. If I’m going to be that trendy, I might as well buy some skinny jeans, start wearing Brylcreem, stop wearing socks & grow a Grizzly Adams beard whilst I’m at it.

And this is how it is with the near ubiquitous smart phone. The lack of an alternative forces many of us into owning a phone which doubles up as a laptop, a telly, a stereo & a Kindle. I don’t need my phone to do any of these things on the grounds that I already own a laptop, a telly, a stereo & a Kindle.

Ah…” I hear you say “But you can’t take your laptop with you when you go out, can you? What about your email?”

Well… that’s true. But in my life, (and I suspect many other people’s), there is no email that is so urgent that it can’t wait until I get back from walking the dog or visiting the supermarket. OK, I work from home & can check my email pretty much any time I want and I realise that this doesn’t apply to everyone. But the point remains, does it really enrich your life to have your phone constantly bonging away to say that Argos have a sale on, or that eBay & Amazon have recommendations for you? How many of the emails which interrupt what you’re doing every day, as they land in your pocket, really need immediate attention?

And if it is an important email – presumably something formal which requires a response, how easy is it to type this kind of correspondence on a keyboard the size of a Rizla packet, often with sunlight obliterating your view of the screen? You see my point? Time & again, I would end up giving up on typing with my thumbs as I walked down the street, preferring instead to wait until I got home when I could compose my message on a “real” computer.

As for being able to watch “content” (as we’re supposed to call television programmes these days) when I’m not sat in front of my telly… Well, I have to tell you that most of the time when I am sat in front of the old gogglebox, I don’t even want to watch it then. Literally hundreds of channels of nothing but repeats, airhead-infested reality TV, the latest cop show/teenage vampires/Tolkien-esque fantasy “box set” we’re all supposed to be in raptures over & a plethora of cooking shows. I’d rather read a book or put some music on to be honest. So I don’t feel impoverished by having to leave the telly behind when I leave the house.

Social media? I don’t use it any more. I used to be all over Facebook & Twitter. At the time, I bought into the idea that it was a great way to drum up new custom. It wasn’t. I even got expert mentoring in using social media for marketing purposes under a government scheme set up to help sole traders like me. So it wasn’t as if I was blundering around making a hash of it – I was doing it right, and the results demonstrated this: I was getting likes, shares & followers. But in over a year of plugging away at it, it didn’t generate a single new paying customer. Not so much as an extra brass farthing in the till… nowt! Added to this was the fact that I just didn’t enjoy it – logging in was just another tiresome admin task to be carried out several times a day. Time I could have been spending with my guitar. Time & effort expended for zero gain. I closed all my accounts.

Then we come to the reliability issue – a mobile phone’s primary task is to be a reliable phone connection, right? Well my various smart phones had other ideas. Apart from the issue of a battery which would go flat if it wasn’t charged twice a day, they thought they were penny-arcade machines.

Here’s what I mean… again & again, after hours of silence, I would get a text message telling me I had numerous new voicemails. Even when I could see 5 bars of a full signal, whatever phone I had at the time would routinely dump calls into voicemail. Why? Often because it was busy performing updates to pre-installed apps that I didn’t use and was not allowed to remove. These were invariably games… “Angry Bejewelled Bubble Pet Candy Witch Farm Birds Saga” and the like. These updated versions of Space Invaders & Asteroids were apparently more important to my phone than letting me know that customers were trying to get in touch to book lessons with me. I actually lost work due to this!

Nowadays my SIM card resides in a reconditioned, second hand, Nokia talk & text phone, bought for pennies on eBay. When I finally gave up on my last smart phone in favour of this “dumb” phone, people looked at me as if I’d traded in an iPod for a wind-up gramophone. But I have a battery life measured in days (not hours), I never miss a call due to my phone being too busy to actually be a telephone, and direct sunlight doesn’t stop me being able to see the keypad I’m trying to dial on. Nor does my phone insist on “correcting” my text messages – Samsung used to think I live in a town called “Reducer” as opposed to “Redcar”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t a gadget something which is supposed to make life easier?

And there you have it… my reasons for not being one of the 66% of the population who “need” a smart phone. Or maybe it’s “the 66% who own one because the bloke in the phone shop convinced them they needed one, because that’s all they sell.”

As Mark Twain once said “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics”.

Until next time, have fun!

John Robson Guitar Tuition

John Robson… Guitarist


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