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Patria-Kaye Aarons | Smartphones have dumbed us down

Published:Tuesday | November 29, 2016 | 12:00 AM

I spent my early working years in the customer care department of a mobile phone company. I distinctly remember a call I received from a man who had purchase his very first cell phone. He wanted to return the device because he was sure it was faulty. According to him, from the day he got the phone, it hadn't stopped "trembling like say it had fits. And that cyan normal".

Back then, some 15 years ago, the call was hilarious to me. However, in hindsight, I say, big up to that man. He applied sound logic to the use of his smartphone. Anything that vibrated in his world at the time was malfunctioning, and so he assumed that a vibrating phone was nearing the end of its useful life. He was a thinking man.

Today, those of us who use the phone aren't quite as clever. By some strange witchcraft, when we get our first phones, we can no longer do simple math. My grandma used to hand cashiers exact change in stores well before she was told her bill, because she mentally added up her total as she shopped. There is no way I can do that today. I can barely calculate my change.

I also can no longer spell. Or I have to type the word on my phone screen to see if it looks right. Auto-correct is one of the best things that's ever happened to me. It's right up there with seeing President Obama, and bread. Sure, it's a little inconvenient when I want to curse in a text and the phone keeps assuming I mean 'duck' or 'ship'. And don't get me started on how it interprets my attempts to type Patois. But outside of that, it has saved me from some most embarrassing tweets with spelling that would put my Campion education and master's degree to shame.

Phones may help us spell, but they've also ruined our vocabulary. My mummy got Facebook on her cell. Mercy. Of late, she's been telling me she's "friendly" with various persons. It makes perfect sense to her. If somebody 'friends' you on Facebook, the natural conjugation of the Facebook verb 'to friends' means you and the person are now 'friendly'.

I'm also sure cell phones have compromised our emotions. When last have you typed LOL and actually laughed out loud? I've watched humans sit zombie-faced typing away, "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA." Worst, I've seen were friends sitting side by side and one says to the other, 'hugs'. Ahhhh, why don't you just actually hug?!


Phoney obsession


The need to communicate is so urgent that people walk and text. Worse, people drive and text. Dumb.

Ity and Fancy Cat did a sketch on TV Sunday night. It featured a common assault in Jamaica. An accident happened and someone took out their cell phone not to call for help but to record the horror. I'm convinced that smartphone cameras activate perhaps the dumbest parts of us. When did taking pictures of our dinner plates become a thing? If we still had to take that picture on a roll of Kodak film, and pay to develop it, we would never start this lunacy.

As a journalist, I understand the instinct to capture the moment for others to see it. However, we tek it too far, Rasta. Everybody tun paparazzi.

I remember being at a concert in MoBay last year, and the welcoming applause for the acts was far less rousing than the audience was capable of. Why? People's hands were occupied. They were busier taking pictures of the performers than welcoming them to the stage. Mi did feel a way. (Every real Jamaican understands that turn of phrase). My inner voice was shouting, "Put down your phones and clap the people." I've seen the same thing happen to world leaders, business moguls and superstars.

I went to see comedian Aziz Ansari in Chicago. (I find the man downright hilarious.) Knowing full well just how distracting the camera is, Aziz actually has a photo-op moment built into the start of his set. He instructs the audience to take out their cameras and he dedicates a whole five minutes to them taking selfies and pictures of him. He then tells them to put the phones away and enjoy the show.

Maybe smartphones aren't for everybody. We've grown overly dependent of these tiny devices and they've affected our brains and human interaction. Clearly, the positives they bring to our lives are many, but perhaps in the future, like a gun, some should test for a licence to carry them.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to, or tweet @findpatria.