There is a mobile phone app that allows your smartphone to "listen" to a song playing on the radio and then identify it, telling you the song title, performer and composer. That kind of technology blows my mind. So on a recent trip to San Francisco, I was walking down Columbus Avenue in North Beach and saw a building I knew was famous, but I couldn't place it. I thought how wonderful it would be to have an app where I could point the camera of my mobile phone at the building, and the smartphone "identifies" the building, telling me the name of the building, the address, the architect and the date of construction.
On the return flight home I was chatting with a woman whose son is a computer programmer. I shared my app idea, (only partially) teasingly telling her to have him get started on it. As it turns out, she emailed me early this week to tell me that she had passed my idea along to her son, and he confirmed that it's already being developed and will be on the market soon. Great minds.
I use this as a backdrop to a story I was reading on cnn.com this morning. The article is written by Andrew Keen and is entitled, "How our mobiles became Frankenstein's monster." Keen's premise is that mobile phones are becoming uncontrollable monsters and that our dependency on our phones leaves us open to the "dark side" of technology. He defines this dark side as the inability to think for ourselves as well as the potential for us to be spied on and for the most intimate details of our lives to be on display to strangers.
He's certainly right about our dependency on our phones. My last night in San Francisco, I went out to dinner and a movie with my brother, Matt, who lives in the Bay Area. When he dropped me off at my hotel, I walked inside and realized I left my phone in his car. "No problem," I thought, "I'll just call him from the hotel phone and have him bring it back to me.." Except that my only contact phone list is... in my phone. By this time it was after 10pm California time. I am now so dependent on my phone that traveling back to Wyoming, calling my brother from home and having him send me my phone was unthinkable -- a week delay in getting it back? Not doable. So I called one of the few numbers I know by heart -- my dad and stepmom -- so they could get Matt's number out of their cell phone and give it to me. (I should add here that it was after midnight, Wisconsin time and I had to get them out of bed to help me.)
It reminds me of a post I read on Facebook that said, Without my cell phone I wouldn't be able to:
1. know what time it is 2. be able to solve a math equation 3. know a single phone number 4. know the date 5. be able to text my friend when I'm at his/her house 6. take a snap shot at a picture perfect time 7. be able to wake up from an alarm in the morning 8. find my way in the dark
In short, it concluded, I wouldn't be able to live. Kind of scary, huh?
Keen backs up his assertion about privacy violations by citing a recent report that Facebook, Flickr, and other app makers have confessed to reading our text messages without our permission. He also refers to a Wall Street Journal series entitled, "What They Know" about how our Apple iphones and Google Android devices are watching our every move. I have to say that, personally, the whole "icloud" concept disturbs me... where is all that data being stored? Who is managing it and who has access to it? Those questions have sufficiently creeped me out thus far to make me steer clear of any offers to put information on "icloud"... for now.
According to Keen, given that our smartphones can't make us younger, richer, more virile or more intelligent, the "real sense of empowerment comes from reestablishing our mastery over our mobille devices." He interprets this to mean pressing the off button once in a while so that our smartphones can never become as smart as we are.