Smartphones don’t dumb you down, they DUMB you UP

Pass that bucket of sheep intestines

Something for the Weekend, Sir? My wife has asked me to produce my dong when she is least expecting it. Apparently, this will help her to refocus during lengthy meditation exercises.

She has also asked me to produce this occasional chiming sound (that’s right, a "dong" – why, what did you think I meant?) from different locations in the room. Better still, to enhance the unpredictability of the experience, the noises should be different. By this, I understand that she has a desire to be entertained by a number of different dongs.

Initially, rather than tramping around the room with a sack of percussive instruments, I imagined I might set them up beforehand and walk from one to another. So whenever she begins to nod off, she can be aroused by my dong at her left ear, then surprised by another clapper at one end of the room, and later startled as I jangle away at the bell end.

The problem is that I couldn’t give a toss. Thank you, thank you, I’m here all week.

Actually, the real problem is that we disposed of our kids’ awful clanking musical instruments at a series of car-boot sales last year. An alternative solution would be to make other percussive noises such as slamming shut a hardback book or tapping a glass tumbler with a pen. Yet with crushing inevitability, it occurred to me that I could quickly download a bunch of pleasant chiming audio clips to my smartphone at no cost or muscular effort and play them back as required.

There is, as they say, an app for that. And do you know something: why bloody not? My smartphone is a convenient little computer with a cute little speaker and perfectly effective audio reproduction, and it’s connected to the webbynet all the time. I’m damned if anyone is going to roll their eyes and tut-tut just because I fancy using my phone to download some media files that will encourage me to hammer away at the bell end in order to satisfy my wife. And you can quote me on that.

Some years ago in the pre-iPhone era, my son announced that he was bored with his MP3 player – it was the original iPod Mini that looked like a pack of chewing gum – and asked if we could buy him his first mobile phone. When challenged as to why a quiet tweenager would want a mobile phone since he never used any kind of phone to call anybody ever, he just stared at us as if we were thick and replied:

“To make videos, of course.”

It wasn’t sarcasm. All his mates were mucking about with video-enabled Nokias and he wanted some of the action. Apple went on to design a tiny camera into its later iPods to serve precisely this market segment.

In fact, soon after I acquired my first iPhone, online groups sprang up everywhere to deal with the device’s audio and video possibilities, totally independent of its ability to make phone calls. I think I may still to this day be a member of a group called "iPhone Filmographers" or similar. To use a device for something it wasn’t originally intended to do for isn’t stupidity, it’s creativity.

That said, I can’t personally claim to be particularly creative. Some people are able to make feature films from their Samsung Galaxies, it is said, but all my video clips look blurry and rubbish. If only everyone would keep perfectly still and stop moving around, I’m sure they’d be OK. Then I could admire lots of videos of people being very still.

My experience of smartphone video capture rather confirms that scene in Four Lions in which the home-grown jihadists believe that waggling your head back and forth in public will render you unrecognisable to security cameras. They should call it "Barry’s Law" and emboss it in gold on the first page of the smartphone user guide chapter on video capture: “Barry says you come out blurry.”

Youtube Video

What’s bugging me is that I have just received yet another of those nitwit press releases masquerading as market research about mobile phone usage. This time, I am being given the shocking news that 18-24-year-olds tend to become frustrated if they can’t connect to social media from their smartphones. Well yes. And?

AND apparently even older people are being turned into vegetables by their reliance on GPS on their handheld devices. These smarty portable telephone handsets are rotting our brains to such an extent (it says here) that many of us “can no longer read a map”.

Hang on a mo. Call me a generalist, but a GPS road map looks remarkably like … a road map. It’s got roads in it, you see, and it is … a map. They are usually drawn to look like lengths of flat spaghetti in pretty colours to distinguish the motorways from the A and B roads, along with junctions and turnings.

Could it be that the survey has found that drivers can no longer find their way around using a REAL map during a walking holiday on Scafell Pike? And what about motoring for work? Oh goodness, I’m now so reliant on my GPS to drive to a customer site that I’ll simply fail to any spot triangulation pillars, gravel pits and key topographical details en route. Come to think of it, I haven’t carried an orienteering compass with me to the supermarket for, oh, years. What a thick twat I’ve become, all thanks to my smartphone.

Hang on, OS maps have only been available for 100 years or so. Does that mean that Ordnance Survey itself contributed to the dumbing down of British travellers by replacing earlier forms of orientation with its new-fangled “paper maps”? By Jove, whatever happened to good old milestone signposts and the great British tradition of being shouted at by a spouse for an hour before you stop and ask a passer-by for directions?

What, are you too thick to check the position of the stars? The flight pattern of passing swallows is too good for you, eh?

Oh no, none of this hi-tech interplanetary body nonsense for me! Don’t give me your flocking bird brain-rot, young man! In the old days, we planned our travel routes by holding a séance or sacrificing a black ram and interpreting the shape of its intestines.

If ever I got lost, I would wind down the window of my horse and call out to the nearest pedestrian:

“Excuse me, good friend, I am in the process of conveying my journeyman technological mastery and some transportable comestibles to a habitation perchance not unknown to you by the name of Barnstaple. By malchance, some leagues hence, I was mischievously persuaded by my saucy spouse to ‘take a left’ and presently surmise that I no longer have a fucking clue where I art be. Pray might you be favourably inclined to lend me the usage of an ouija board and a vessel of sheep’s steaming entrails?”

Let me use my smartphone however I like and I’ll stick as many stupid apps on it as I want. Despite my failings in the map-reading and Hollywood blockbuster department, I feel hopeful that I can still manage to give a good donging. ®

Alistair DabbsAlistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling IT journalism, editorial training and digital publishing. He does not use his smartphone to control his central heating when he’s out because he’s never out. He does, however, wish his smartphone could operate his set-top box without having to connect via a suspicious Wi-Fi enabled app, thereby sending his viewing choices around the world before it reaches his TV.

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