Instead of buying our way out of obsolescence, we program, adapt, and workaround. What makes a phone great is not how new it is, but how long it lasts.

This post started as a response to a possible future of technology. However, it grew and grew, so I have split it up. This then is a response to my reading of James Bridle’s book The New Dark Age and the place of the future of the smartphone.


John Philpin recently wrote a response to a post from John Harris I shared discussing the destructive nature of mobile phones. He asked:

If we didn’t have them … what would the world look like … Can we definitively say ‘better’ ?

For me, this is such an intriguing question. My initial response was a little circumspect. In particular, I think the idea of ‘better’ is problematic and instead argue for difference. This particular change is captured by Vala Afshar in the form of emojis:

In less than 10 years, 📱 replaced: 📟 ☎️ 📠 💽 💾 💻⏰ 📷 📹 🎥 📺 📻📰 💿 💳 💼 📎 📄⏳ 🔦 📼 📚 ⌚️ 🎮📓 ✏️ 📁 🎤 📇 📆🎰 💵 📬 📝 🆘 🏧🎫 ✉️ 📤 ✒️ 📊 📋🔎 🔑 📣 🎼 🎬 📀📒⌨️🕹🎙⏱📿🗝📇🗄📁📋🗂✉️⌨️

There is no doubting that the smartphone has simplified so many actions and activities. When I think of my own habits, my writing and reading often starts with my phone, whether it be flicking through my feed reader or jotting down a few notes.

Yet I am left feeling something is still missing in the discussion. I wonder about the inherent design and consequence of smartphone use? I wonder about those places involved in the production? I wonder about the ethics involved?

This is something Adam Greenfield captures in his book Radical Technologies:

This is our life now: strongly shaped by the detailed design of the smartphone handset; by its precise manifest of sensors, actuators, processors and antennae; by the protocols that govern its connection to the various networks around us; by the user interface conventions that guide our interaction with its applications and services; and by the strategies and business models adopted by the enterprises that produce them.

I am not necessarily arguing we should ‘ban’ smartphones in schools as it often feels like such decisions are sometimes made for the wrong reasons, whether it be liability or control. Instead I am striving for more critical reflection.

Here I am reminded of Doug Belshaw’s work on digital literacies. Rather than defining it as a thing in itself, Belshaw discusses eight different elements that come to play in different contexts and situations:

  • Cultural – the expectations and behaviours associated with different environments, both online and off.
  • Cognitive – the ability to use computational thinking in order to work through problems.
  • Constructive – the appropriate use of digital tools to enable social actions.
  • Communicative – sharing and engaging within the various cultural norms.
  • Confident – the connecting of the dots and capitalising on different possibilities.
  • Creative – this involves doing new things in new ways that somehow add value.
  • Critical – the analysis of assumptions behind literacy practises
  • Civic – the something being analysed.

Too often the focus of mobile technology in education is on cognition and communicative, rather than the critical and constructive. We are often willing to talk about moonshots and wicked problems unwilling to let go of certain assumptions and certifications.

Clay Shirky suggests that workflows need to be a little frustrating:

The thing I can least afford is to get things working so perfectly that I don’t notice what’s changing in the environment anymore.

To return to Adam Greenfield, he argues that rather than being flexible and aware of our impact, we have bought into an ethos of efficiency of everyday existence.

Networked digital information technology has become the dominant mode through which we experience the everyday.

The question is at what cost? Should students be encouraged to use the portable over a more complicated device? Is it an ‘everything now’ cloud computing that we should aspire to? As I hold my old Nexus phone, I wonder what is it we actually need verses want? What next, phones inserted under our skin? As Douglas Rushkoff suggests, “What makes a phone great is not how new it is, but how long it lasts.”

So what about you? What are your thoughts on the ‘smartphone revolution’? As always, comments and webmentions welcome.


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Would the World Be Better without Mobile Devices? by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

13 thoughts on “Would the World Be Better without Mobile Devices?

  1. Hello Aaron,
    You mention the Ying/Yang contradictions modern learners should be discussing. Efficiency vs. Effectiveness, maybe both are possible, but it feels, speaking generally, we seem to be sacrificing depth for the miles-wide-inch-deep connections mobile technologies provide. Wouldn’t we like more f-2-f time with family and friends – a Facebook post falls far short of a conversation over dinner. That said, I seldom go anywhere without my cell phone.
    Bob

    • As we all slowly become aware that face-to-face maybe better than a Facebook conversation, I wonder if we have lost anything with a focus on loose ties over strong ties? I am reminded here of the work of Sherry Turkle. I think I probably over simplified things with this post.

  2. I am all for handing over control and ownership to students. Agency is not my concern. I just wonder how much agency students can have when rather than schools (or education departments) making critical decisions, it is the market?
    The way that you describe the take-up of technology it becomes about what was learnt when three? If you asked me ten years ago if I would recommend Facebook, I might have said yes, it is where everyone is, why not. Now, I would definitely say no. Thankfully no one I worked with agreed with me back then.
    I have similar concerns about ‘devices’ and software. Although I like the idea of digital agnostic, especially Matt Esterman’s idea of a toolography, I just wonder about position we put students in following this path? Who is responsible for any data breaches in this circumstance? Even more so if that compromises a whole network?

    via collect.readwriterespond.com

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