Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Smarter Than The Average Phone

Begging your indulgence, I’d be grateful if you would read the following definition (from dictionary.com) and keep it to the front of your mind for the duration of this blog post:

Vital –adjective
1. of or pertaining to life: vital processes.
2. having remarkable energy, liveliness, or force of personality: a vital leader.
3. being the seat or source of life: the vital organs.

And before we get into a proper stride, there’s a video here:
that is very much worth a watch, even if it ultimately means little to you.

Done? Excellent! Amongst several thought-provoking ideas, the fourth item in that video struck a real chord. We all know the internet can be addictive – there’s always something to read, someone to communicate with in one form or another, or naughty videos to watch ( … oh, did I say that out loud?). In other words, enough to make you wonder how anyone ever procrastinated without the internet to help them.

Turning the computer off, then, is an excellent way of making sure you can’t be distracted quite so easily. It’s something I’ve been making a conscious effort to do for a while now, and it’s helped in a big way. Read fewer pointless forums, use the time to actually write, then power the laptop down and get on with something else enriching, like reading a few poems.

Or watching repeats of the 60s Batman TV series.

For that reason – as well as not being encumbered with an over-priced monthly contract – I’ve shied away from owning a mobile phone any more complicated than my (relatively) basic Nokia 6500. It’s not hard to imagine owning a phone that’s nearly as well specced as the laptop and consequently picking it up every five minutes to check e-mails or Twitter, and so it’s a scenario that makes me a little uncomfortable.

Surely it’s healthy to maintain a bit of distance from technology? Just because you can be available every minute of the day doesn’t mean you should be, does it? Maybe I’m just paranoid and it doesn’t really work like that in practice. A willingness to concede that a smartphone might not rule every waking moment has led me to make timid investigations into the possibility of owning one, the driving reason being that it would allow me to better pursue my creativity in a more flexible manner.

For example, I’ve managed to cultivate a small network of contacts on Twitter, and being away from a computer for, say, a weekend starts to have a couple of knock-on effects. The first is a feeling of ‘being behind the curve’, to use some awful business-speak. I’m not talking about being perpetually connected, but ploughing through two or three days worth of tweets for any little gem that might have been missed is compounded by the time required to do that catching up, which could be better spent.

The second effect is that being off Twitter for a length of time makes me feel like I’m taking a step back in terms of getting my work recognised (in that I hope people will discover the blog through the medium of tweeting (tweedium?)). That probably overstates the importance of Twitter, because producing some actual work is obviously far more important, but it feels part of the process. It’s more relevant (or should that be justifiable?) for situations where doing some work is not really possible but dipping into a pocket for a phone is no effort at all. And let’s face it, reading a few e-mails while waiting in a queue might mean more time on the computer at home to produce that all-important work…

In essence then, a smartphone: interminable distraction that would render me a social pariah, or a means by which I could legitimately further my creative ambitions? As mentioned a few paragraphs back, I began looking into potential candidates (I also answer to being called ‘Lord Sugar’) and after a limited amount of research the Wildfire S (manufactured by HTC) seemed like a good all-round option. It might even have been the phone the man in the Orange shop said he uses himself. Then I read some promotional guff about it and stumbled across the following excerpt:

An icebreaker for your calls. Wouldn’t it be handy if your Caller ID not only displayed a name and number, but also vital stuff like their Facebook status and birthday? HTC Wildfire S does just that, so when you look to see who’s calling, you know to say Happy Birthday the moment you answer the phone.”

Hard to know where to start with that, isn’t it? If you take ‘of or pertaining to life’ as using ‘life’ in the sense of ‘living and participating in society’, then maybe the use of ‘vital’ is acceptable. But if ‘life’ refers generally to ‘physical existence’ (or ‘not being dead’) then it is much much easier to take issue with. Because even if I occupied a world of transient ‘friendship’ where life is lived almost entirely through social networking – and even if I couldn’t remember when my friends’ birthdays are, being so lazy or insincere that a 1/365 chance would actually matter – I couldn’t buy a phone with a selling point like that, using language in that way to promote it.

I can’t buy into that mass-market, ‘must-have’ sentiment. I really can’t. In fact, maybe I just won’t.


My original intention for this blog post was to talk about how all the smartphones I’ve looked at are desperately boring devices, devoid of any genuine inspiration and trading on minutiae like screen size, the version of Android being run and the speed of the processor contained within. It all falls under the ‘mass-market’ umbrella – using context-less figures that don’t really mean anything to drive sales to a largely uninterested market of consumers – and so by the time the focus of the piece had skewed toward the creativity angle, it didn’t feel quite so relevant.

So please forgive me tagging it on to the end. It still felt a point worth making – that in addition to the conflicting thoughts outlined above, none of the bloody things even give me a reason to choose one over all the rest. That is perhaps the most disappointing thing of all.


  1. Not considering an iPhone then?

    Everyone uses "vital" to mean "absolutely necessary" these days (and in fact as far back as I can remember), so I think in this case it's the dictionary failing to keep up with popular meanings. Which makes it a fair enough word to throw into your marketing spiel in my opinion. It's just some poor design/marketing team attempting to sell their Android device in an already totally confused and overcrowded market.

    At least with an iPhone, you know what you're getting, even if you don't like it!

  2. GET ON TO THE OED! Somebody should write a sitcom about this sort of thing...

    Oh, and as you've got the dictionary out:
    [with object]
    1 (dumb something down) informal simplify or reduce the intellectual content of something so as to make it accessible to a larger number of people"

    This applies to both the OED, and, it would appear, the phones in question.

    I have to say, I like the Sci-Fi angle of a social-networking-dependent community of the future...

    I see a group of people stood around the soon-to-be-death bed of a member of the group. I see one of the morbid spectators say, "It won't be long now, he's only got one friend left."

    Another responds, "What did he do wrong, dammit?!"

    "He only forgot old Jims' birthday the other week. It's amazing people take these things so seriously now."

    The active-status beeping of the victims profile page turns from a steady heartbeat pattern to the uninterrupted tone of the you-have-no-friends-and-have-been-deleted flat-line.

    Jim Likes This.

    Too late.