Life and Language



“Do you have a pen?” 
It’s a question I hear all the time. I get asked a similar question a lot. It’s similar in length, structure and phrasing. But the meaning and nature are vastly different. “Do you have your phone?” It may have a question mark at the end, but it’s not a question. The asker just wants my number or assumes I will have an email on it. The “question” is an assumption that I have a phone and have it with me.
It’s odd the difference between the two phrases. When someone asks about a pen, they wait for an answer. It’s not that hard to carry a pen, yet they are unsure if you are. So it’s a true question. Considering the cost and size, one might think that smartphones are less commonly carried than pens are. Yet when people ask for a phone, they assume you have one and rarely wait for an answer. In just a few years, smartphones have changed our lives and our language.
In some ways, it seems like the phone has been around forever. It is completely normal to see them everywhere and use them all the time. Yet in other ways, it seems like they have only been around for a few minutes. I’m not that old, but I can remember a time before smartphones. Contrary to popular opinion, Jobs and Apple did not create the smartphone. They didn’t create much at all. Their specialty was cutting the crap out of current tech to make it more user-friendly and intuitive. That’s what they did with the phone. As early as 1996, there were smart versions of phones that could connect to the web. Then Jobs came on the scene and boiled it down so that people could actually figure out how to use it. Now, smartphones are everywhere.
In some parts of the world, there are vending machines that dispense phones. In India, there are vans that travel remote rural areas, like a sideshow, selling phones and setting up cell towers. In Canada, there are people crossing the street while texting. Everyone has one.
Well, almost everyone. I have never owned a phone. 
For me, not owning a phone is a choice. I strive to be effective in my pursuits, so I do everything I can to increase my productivity. Many of the most productive people in the world have given up their smartphones - which is why I have chosen not to own one. It might be convenient to own a phone. But convenience is different from productivity. 
Seeing that we’ve received a notification feels good. But it’s also addictive and checking our phones every few seconds is highly distracting. Studies show that it takes about 23 minutes to fully refocus after a distraction. Often, we’re being distracted every few minutes, so very few of us ever deeply focus on a task. There are apps or programs that can help block notifications, but I have chosen to simply avoid phones so I don’t even need to worry about those. 
Something I do worry about is my posture. Phones have not been around very long, but medical professionals are already noticing changes in posture. Hunching over phones texting has caused many people to have rounded shoulders with their heads out of line with their spine. If there are other ways of communicating, I would rather avoid this potential altogether. 
For me, perhaps the biggest reason against a phone is connectivity. It seems that as soon as you get a phone, people assume that they are free to call you anytime about anything. At work people always assume that they can call me to come in whenever they want. But when I don’t have a phone, I can set an expectation that I am not available to be contacted unless I am at work. It may be innocent and they may not need anything from me, but even when the family calls just to chat, that is an interruption and demand on my time. I want to be in control of my schedule and disconnect if I want. 
Instead of committing to things, we now try to live life on the fly. We used to meet others by agreeing upon a time and place to be. Then we’d be there. If it was a secret pen pal you were meeting, you’d set a red carnation on the table and wait for them to show up. Now you go to the café, call them, and see who reaches for their phone. We carry our phones in our pockets so that we can call people to rearrange plans. It makes us more flexible but reduces our integrity and commitment. 
When I wanted to meet with the yoga mat seller from Kijiji, she asked for my phone number so she could contact me when she arrived. Instead, I asked her if we could agree upon a place and time and both be there. Amazing! It worked.  When I moved to a new place to start a job I found out that I couldn’t start or move into my room for another 2 days. But I didn’t need a phone to help me navigate the confusing stressful situation. When I was driving and found the bridge out, I had a map to help me. I have become much more creative and a better problem solver because I have had to solve problems instead of just googling answers or calling people for help. 
Most phones have a feature called “autocorrect”. As you are typing, it will automatically correct your words to catch assumed typos or incorrect words. there are countless stories of how that little feature changed words incorrectly without people noticing. Phones have also been changing our language and lives without most of us noticing. Phones have become so standard that people assume you have on a phone, have it on you and are willing to use it all the time, for every purpose. People need to ask if someone has a pen, yet people assume you have a phone. Smartphones have increased distraction and decreased productivity. People are more able to be contacted but less able to think and reflect.  Phones have increased adaptability but decreased commitment and integrity. We get frustrated when auto-correct changes something it wasn't supposed to without our knowing. Smartphones have changed more than a few letters in our lives though; they have changed our language, our posture, our focus and our commitment. 

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