Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why my Smart Phone.......Might not be.

 I am one of those souls who was dragged backwards, kicking and screaming, into the Digital Age.  I steadfastly resisted digital photography, despite the urging of friends who insisted I was missing out.  Of course, the fact that I had about $15K tied up in Nikon film cameras and lenses might have had something to do with that.  But, today those cameras are nearly worthless, unless you like having high-tech paperweights or bookends.

As a matter of course it was inevitable that I did finally accept that the digital revolution--and it is that--was inevitable and now I wouldn't dream of using film again. I have become a great admirer of how accessible and how amazingly effective the symbiotic combination of a decent digital camera and Photoshop is. What was once the province of expensive custom labs and printers is now available to anyone who wants to make stunningly fine images.

When it came to cell-phones, I was also reluctant, but my dear wife insisted that the convenience and added security of having one of these little devices in your pocket far outweighed the cost and my underlying resistance to climbing on board any movement that creates dependency on big corporate America.  So, I started out with a very basic little phone, eventually up-graded to a nicer one that could actually take half-decent pictures, and I was fine with it....although I do detest seeing people using them when they are also trying to convey a very large and shiney SUV through traffic.  Stats show that they are driving about as well as someone who just loaded up on Margaritas.

Recently, it became obvious that Abby was becoming sort of a 'texting monster', her phone always close to hand and a steady stream of communications happening that involved hammering teensy keys and sending out messages to our kids, her friends and to whomever she wished.  I did feel a little left out, and I feared that I was showing symptoms of 'old fartism', being a curmudgeon about this way of messaging.  So, I finally let her know that I was interested.....and she was wise enough to get me down to our local cell-phone store before I could change my mind.

Well, the options and choices were pretty overwhelming.  There are 'sliders', 'Blackberries', 'Androids', 'touch screens', 'qwerty' keypads...and on and on.  But, I did manage to narrow it down and I was pleased to now be joining the rest of the family as a 'smart phone' user.  I brought the device home, wrapped in a sharp, metallic red protective case--a must have for all savy users apparently--and I began sorting out how to use the many features.  By and by I could stand out under the night sky and have the little glowing screen tell me the names of all the constellations....and even where the moon was, yes, at that moment.  Anywhere I pointed the phone/computer, it indicated the horizon and showed me a map of the sky.  It also can tell me where I am standing, within a very few meters, and keep me abreast of the weather, my bank accounts, and probably read my mind.....if I am willing to download the appropriate 'app'.

In fact, this little device could easily become the central focus of my entire life, hooking me up with all the social networking I could ever not want....keep me 'tweeting', facebooking, etc., etc. ad infinitum....or ad nauseum, depending on how you view it.  I am not really sure what it CAN'T do...but, I am told that there are over EIGHTY-THREE THOUSAND apps available, most of them for free, so it isn't clear that there is much on that list...if anything.  Holy Cow, Batman!!!

But, here's the thing: at what point do I begin to feel that I have a little MONSTER in my pocket?  Apparently, this device can tell anybody who is clever enough to hack it, where I am, what I am doing on it, what I have said and typed, and give them access to all of my records and private life in its entirety. The wicked ones out there who are using the ever growing world of communication, global positioning, financial  dealings and everything else are finding more and more clever ways to learn what they need to know about us. I am not even going to go into the idea that government intelligence agencies may be among the most active purloiners of information and data....but, I can tell you that there are now over 1200 private intelligence consulting contractors to the U.S. government...and I sincerely doubt if all of them are well regulated and tightly controlled, much less feeling constrained by any sense of what is 'right and wrong'.

After having this 'thing' for only a few days, I noticed that it didn't seem to hold a charge for very long, necessitating putting it on the charger every night.  My old and ignorant cell-phone needed charging about once a week, if that.  So, I began exploring on the web, and soon realized that this 'smart' phone is on all the time and was running about THIRTY apps, even ones that I do not use and have no desire to.  They were just hovering in the background, waiting for me to discover them and become a fanatical user....of whatever.  Thankfully, my brother-in-law, Jody--who is much more tech-savy than I--said, "Download 'App Killer' and shut them down.  So, even as he sat across the dinner table from me, I did so.  Of course, each time I check to see if these supposedly disabled apps are behaving, several or many of them have fired themselves back up and are again sucking my battery's vital juices out.

Whoever created and got in bed with the cell-phone's maker and provider doesn't give a damn if I want their app.  They are going to be there regardless of whether or not I want whatever they are foisting on me. It doesn't take much imagination to suppose that there are aspects of this phone and the network that it is ALWAYS either searching for or connected to that I am not privy to.  Internet monsters like Google are now collecting data on our spending habits, shopping preferences, communications....and who the hell knows what else.

I am beginning to wonder if the best use for this device is to lock it up in a lead-lined box for most of the time, and only take it out to use when I really need it.  I do like texting; the phone aspect is no different that it was with my little 'dumb phone'....but, I am starting to feel that using a 'smart phone' is opening a window into my life that I don't really know about in any depth.

Is that really the 'smart' thing to do in these times?  I have some doubt about that.

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