When Smartphones Make Us Dumb

From the first moment I turned on my smartphone I was enchanted.  Upon activating, the device emitted a strange, though not unpleasing, ethereal noise as an electric blue swirl flashed on the screen.  I resisted buying one until 2013.  As predicted, I love everything I thought I would love about it and feel irritated by everything I thought would be irritating.

Recently I started wondering what the name “smartphone” is really defining.  Does it refer to the actual phone, meaning that it’s “smart” because it possesses technological capabilities to make our lives easier?  Or does “smart” refer to the owner, who is, in some sense, smarter because of the phone?  Having a smartphone means never getting lost, being able to access & retrieve information anytime/anywhere, and receiving notifications/reminders to keep us on track with communication and other aspects of daily life.  These all seem like really positive aspects of having a smartphone, which is why I’m amazed at the ways in which I’m becoming “dumb” for owning one.

I know a number of people, some of whom are smartphone owners, who call me for directions. First of all, most people are pretty adverse to picking up the phone for something as ordinary as a conversation.  And second of all, the smartphone makes you smarter – use the map app!  And if you can’t read a map, google “how to read a map” or “how to activate map voice commands” and the magic inside the phone will give verbal instructions.

And this leads me to the next point, having access to so much information all the time means that I’ve become a bit “dumb” about socializing and communicating with people. My skills are deteriorating because I rely on technology so I don’t need to interact with people to get the information I need.  I’m waiting for a facial-expression app for when we lose our natural abilities to infer meaning from body language.

Smartphones make us dumber by remembering so much for us. When was the last time you remembered a phone number instead of relying on speed-dialing, a contact list, or a voice command?

And lastly using the smartphone makes me “dumb” about my surroundings.  I find that when using the device, even just for taking notes, I’m so focused and absorbed that it consumes all my concentration.  I understand why people have accidents due to “distracted driving.”


4 comments for “When Smartphones Make Us Dumb

  1. Anonymous
    3 March 2015 at 13:56

    excellent – thanks for the insights

  2. Tanya
    3 March 2015 at 17:29

    Well said.

  3. James
    7 March 2015 at 13:37

    Deletist, I was born before calculators and computers took over. My introduction to computers was when I attended a vocational high school for electronics. Here I learned how to do all calculations by hand before we learned how to do it on a calculator, and now the computer. It isn’t technology that is making us dumber. It isn’t people using their smartphone for everything. What it is, is that people are not learning how to do it without technology first. If using your smartphone is the only way you have learned how to read a map then if you don’t have your phone or GPS you’re done. When I went into the Army. We had land navigation. I learned how to read a map and call in a fire mission with no technology. And be within 50 meters of my area or target. That skill has to be taught and mastered before they go to the technological way to do it. The idea being what happens if we lose power. You need to know how to do this without tech.
    People need to lean how to do it without tech first.


    • The Deletist
      10 March 2015 at 14:50

      Thanks for this insight! I couldn’t agree more. People are entirely too reliant on technology as a replacement for learning real skills. I’ve heard that the new generation of Inuits are having problems in the north because they rely on technology (and GPS) to accomplish what their ancestors did by learning how to read the snow and the land. Consequently when the younger generation loses power or connectivity they end up dying (or getting lost) because they haven’t learned these valuable skills. People drive solutions, not technology.

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