In Defense of Smartphones

A couple days ago I saw a video that actually defends the ubiquitous use of smartphones. I transcribed the relevant parts below:

Why don’t you explain to me what the fuck is so great about this world that you want me to take in? A huge chunk of it is just fucking ugly. Like a citgo or an exxon or some other corporate gas station. You know, the kind of place where you would go to buy beer and cigarettes and lottery tickets and junk food. I look at one of those aesthetically deficient piles of utilitarian shit and what am I supposed to do? Marvel at it? Be swept by its sheer fucking beauty? As though it’s as profoundly affecting as Beethoven’s 5th Symphony? Which I can listen to on my fucking cell phone by the way.

Is that a used condom in the dumpster there? Gorgeous! I could’ve been on IMDB figuring out who played the ice truck killer in Dexter but instead I’m going to look at this discarded dick sleeve which upon initial glance I thought was a mayonnaise packet because it’s so filled with jizz. I’m going to fucking observe the beauty of that. Wow! I’m so glad I put my cell phone down and started paying attention to the majesty around me. Wow! There’s a heroine junkee! Wow! There’s a piece of shit shopping mall! Wow! There’s some chain corporate restaurant! Wow! There’s a fucking corn field!

Another situation you hear these curmudgeonly fucks who hate cell phones whine about is dinners and such. ‘I went to dinner and everyone was just on their phones and no one was even talking to each other. It’s horrible, HORRIBLE!’ Listen Grandpa, if you want to tell me about your kidney operation, and how you’re doing, and the medication they got you on, do me a favor. Do what everyone else does and text it to me so I can ignore it more easily.

Although a little vulgar, I feel that he has a valid point. What’s the point of freeing yourself of the distraction of cell phones if the world around you is so shitty to begin with? If you agree with that premise, then the cell phone actually acts as a rational means of self-defense against the shittiness of the outside world. But this begs a more important question: Is the world around us so awful that it makes sense to want to constantly distract ourselves from it? Or is the video blogger just being overly pessimistic about the nature of modern life?

I can’t really say I disagree with him. If you go to any random town in North America, you’re met with constant advertisements, run down bus stops, corporate chains, strip malls and the never ending sound of cars. It does not exactly inspire fascination and wonder. If anything, you feel like a guinea pig being exploited for profit by greedy businessmen. At best, the environment is bland, uncaring and monotone. Our cities are built with efficiency in mind, which means gray concrete and asphalt dominates the city’s aesthetics. Artistic appeal is a complete afterthought, with most art ironically coming from rebellious graffiti. The sounds of the city are ruled by the noise of cars, construction, and the bustling feet of large crowds. It is not a stretch to assert that cities are an attack on all the senses, and naturally our instinct is to find refuge from this. Contrast this to the delightful alternate reality that digital entertainment can provide and there’s clearly no contest. There’s absolutely no mystery as to why people get addicted to smartphones. There’s no reason to feel a sense of superiority over smartphone addicts when taking all of this into consideration. In fact, these smartphone addicts are possibly better adapted to surviving in the modern environment than people such as I who are consciously trying to reject this cultural shift.

The video blogger’s anecdote about the cranky Grandpa at the dinner table also raises an interesting point. It is increasingly common to see social gatherings where people seem more interested in their phones than talking to the people immediately in front of them. Although talking to other human beings in person certainly isn’t obsolete by any means, you definitely see less of it happening. And even when people are socializing together, it is less exciting and involved than in the past. It isn’t a grand leap of faith to claim that profound technological immersion with computers and smartphones makes a person boring. But this misses the root cause: It’s actually the modern urban environment that’s making people boring. Think about it. When someone is raised in a dull, corporate environment that is so lacking in inspiration that everyone seeks to escape it, they will naturally turn into a dull, uninspired person.

And thus my thoughts continue to align towards this central question: Why is life in modern-day North American society is so goddamn shitty? Why do we accept living in this industrialized hellhole where nobody gives a fuck about anyone else and everyone is trained from birth to enslave themselves towards the soul crushing pursuit of profit? I don’t even feel hesitant anymore in claiming we were happier as hunter gatherers. There is just something so fundamentally unfulfilling about the anonymous, machinistic nature of modern-day life that leaves a sort of spiritual void that is impossible to fill without a complete change of environment. This is why I so desperately crave to travel: I want an escape from the industrial society complex.

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