Not sure this is what Jobs had in mind
A mom left her teenage son at a table next to me in the local coffee shop. “I’ll be back in a bit,” she told him while hurrying out the door. What happened next troubled me deeply.
And it’s an all-too-familiar scene.
For the next hour, the kid was completely entranced by his iPhone. Though I tried not to stare, I couldn’t help but notice how he seemed to change as he sat one table away.
Matt Taibbi famously described Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.” He may as well have been describing the smartphone. It’s a bit like the Facehugger from Alien. Except instead of killing you, it saps your will. And people pay for the privilege!
Over the course of the hour, the iFacehugger had its tentacles latched to the kid’s skull, slowly draining his life force. By the time his mom came back, he was a spiritual husk. Slouched, one hand on his head, looking like a gust of wind could’ve bowled him over.
And all he did was sit and stare. Nonstop. For an hour.
At some point or another, perhaps more often than we’d like to admit, we’ve all experienced this. You pick up the phone to check your email and before long two hours have gone by. Where did they go?
Why am I so tired?
The smartphone has this seductive allure. You’re told that you have “all the world’s knowledge in your pocket,” as though this is something you actually need. And while it’s meant as a tool to enhance productivity, I think it’s real world impact is quite the opposite.
People blame social media for so many societal issues, and they aren’t completely wrong. But if scrolling on Instagram (or wherever, pick your poison) was relegated to being a desktop experience, I don’t think it would be such a potent drug.
After all, sitting down at a computer is a considerably more deliberate act than pulling out a smartphone. It’s been estimated that people check their phones roughly once every 10 minutes, or around 96 times a day! Imagine walking over to your laptop with that great a frequency, it’s just not going to happen.
Over the last few years, I’ve put in considerable effort to meaningfully cut back my smartphone usage. And it hasn’t been easy.
I’ve been off social media, save for LinkedIn, for ages. I’ve deleted several apps from my device, blocked all of my go-to websites from the phone’s internet browser, and had someone else set the password so I can’t get around these limitations myself.
Ideally, I’d have a nuclear football style setup where, to undo any of these changes, I’d need two people to turn keys simultaneously. But I’m still working on that one.
It’s become a good deal less addicting, but it is still a meaningful distraction. I dream of one day getting rid of it altogether.
I think about the kid in the coffeeshop and then I think about what it was like when I was his age. Being a teenager wasn’t perfect, but it was so much simpler. And full of so much energy.
I wonder what Steve Jobs would think if he were around to witness the full impact of the iPhone. If he could see the kid in the coffeeshop and millions more like him. I can’t imagine he’d like it.