Smart Phones, Smart People

The Great Cell Phone Debate

People try very hard all of the time to get me to commit to one specific way of viewing the world.

Often when discussing politics, the game becomes a sell-job for whatever political label the other person has chosen to adhere to, downplaying any discussion of the flaws that particular brand of politics is ingrained with.  I understand where that aversion comes from, loyalty alone is a strong motivator for one to not be critical of a dear belief.

But we all know that we’re all full of shit.  I care about your particular strain of political belief about as much as I care about what kind of cell phone you have.

Just for fun, take a second to question for a second how rational you really are. If you need help, simply think about the sheer number of choices you make in a day. Which breakfast cereal do you eat? What kind of car do you drive? Which beer do you pick up in the store?

Which kind of cell phone do you use?

eagle-phoneNow honestly think about how many of those little choices you actually put thought into. We invent reasons as you why we do things, sure, but how often do you question those reasons? How many of them are simply justifying something after-the-fact? It’s not hard to tell that we are an irrational species any way you slice. We are born with a program that we run, deviations from it are what you consider a bad experience, the opposite being true when the program runs as intended.  There are a lot of arguments over what exactly this program is meant to do in the long run, but looking at the rest of nature leads me to believe that it’s similar to any other organism: survive.  Each of us is the equivalent of a biological iPhone, running around trying to find a connection, some kind of signal.  Communication and coordination have always been the secret to all human success.  In any human society, average quality and length of life rise pretty proportionally to how effectively members of that particular society can communicate with each other.


These can be anything, when our mental antennae tunes-in to a particular time and place, it begins to unpack little snippets of data, adding additional code to our operating system. Put enough of these together and you’ve downloaded an app that then creates some new functionality in your life.  What we are capable of appreciating is based mostly on what our hardware can support.

Some apps are pretty essential.

People that can’t call or text (use language) are just beepers at that point, reacting to stimulus in an ambiguous way. Effectively communicating something in a specific way is the first function beyond simply using power correctly (eating, sleeping, drinking) or processing information and storing memory (thinking, processing stimulus, procreating) that is still essential for long-term survival of the species, it’s the entire basis of the phone in the first place. Hence, it is built into nearly every model, there are no functioning societies of beepers.

Most people also come equipped with a pretty decent calendar app that allows them to do some basic planning. What do I have to do this week? Some people even take advantage of this app’s functionality to make plans on the scale of years. A good contact list helps when it comes to this kind of coordination, as does an autocorrect app for catching obvious flaws (sometimes this one backfires, usually hilariously).

You may think that I’m stretching this cellphone analogy a little far.

yelling-into-cell-phoneThat may be the case, but I think that the limitations aren’t critical to what I want to talk about here. Imagining all people as different models of cell phones is close enough to how I actually view the world that I think I can be pretty loose with it here and remain coherent. Moving down the list, a calculator app can really come in handy when it comes to being sure of what you’re saying. Being able to check your math (at least in a basic sense) can be a very useful tool in avoiding mistakes, and it seems too few people end up leveraging this app in a meaningful way.

You also have apps that can automatically help to make your interactions with similar devices easier, smoothing the process of transferring information to one another, and it’s this inbuilt programming that creates our innate biases. Try to link an Apple to a Blackberry and you’re going to run into all kinds of problems because of the difference between operating systems; much more so than between an older and newer generation iPhone. These programs are layered so deep that it’s nearly impossible to change the settings on them. The only hope is in using a filter later in the chain to make the necessary translations on the fly, which eats up valuable resources and often slows things down.

What about when needs get bigger than a few individuals? When more and more networked devices all start absorbing and flinging around each other’s data, filtering it all through dozens of different operating systems?

Need to build a society?

Don’t worry, we’ve got apps for that too, though not one seems to be native. Despotism, democracy, capitalism, feudalism, communism, monarchy, these are all apps developed by various software engineers in an attempt to most effectively take advantage of the hardware available on most devices. The end goal in mind is to create a nicely ordered network with as few hiccups as possible. Looking at the reality we face for a moment, it seems that we might be making more progress updating Android than society.

At the end of the day, all of these apps have one goal in mind: to process the competing signals in such a way that creates as much uniformity as possible.


Many achieve this through differing admin powers to the device with the strongest signal, the king/emperor/senator then inevitably uses this power to limit which signals are allowed to be rebroadcast. This is best achieved by offering a lighter free version of the app first, by baiting people with small-scale victories, testimonials, and big promises, a sufficient-enough portion of the population exposed may be persuaded to invest in the full version of the app, for better or worse.  Almost without fail, it is the latter.

It’s this difference between operating systems that can really threaten the market-share of these apps, so often those of another persuasion are demonized to justify solidarity to a particular network plan. You don’t want those fucking Nokia’s around if they can’t even run Mao, they just leech bandwidth and don’t contribute anything meaningful. Of course.

If this seems at all racist to you…

…then I assure you that is projection. I simply compare people generally here in an analogy in which I am specifically attempting to divorce the workings of human biases and ideas from the concept of race. It doesn’t matter if most iPhones are white, or nearly all Persian people are Motorola’s, it can’t matter. Not all iPhones are white, ask any genius at your local Apple Store.

The fact that such a variety of cell phone models are available on the market, coupled with the fact that one particular device’s line can change from generation to generation is simply the logical conclusion of the needs of particular markets, or environments, nothing more and nothing less. Look at the phone of a seasoned construction worker versus your average college kid, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see something a little more rugged and utilitarian in the hands of someone blue collar, the frills that come packed in the newest smartphone may actually be a very bad investment of resources to someone in that market.

417486-angry-freaked-out-business-man-pulling-his-hair-while-yelling-at-a-cell-phone-stock-photoYou can’t force an app to work on a device that doesn’t have the drivers necessary to run it, not without substantial investment into programming the bridges necessary to compensate for the differences. Like I said, this invariably places strain and cost onto other parts of the network, all so uniformity can be quite artificially maintained. Unfortunately, this sort of network control has always been the consequence of limited resources, the network only has so much bandwidth after all. This leaves us with the defining paradox of phones/humanity: a network has not yet been built that can broadcast all signals equally because different people have very different needs, and we have not yet found a point of equilibrium between equality and freedom, two polar-opposite concepts.

What I’m trying to say here is that I care about your political identity as much as I care about your cell phone.  It can tell a lot about where someone is at in life, but it’s pretty pointless to avoid thinking about its limitations.  Recognize that getting people to live together is a problem that probably has no great, long-lasting answers.  After all, that Snake game was the shit on the old motorolas, but it’s been put to shame by what the new models can do. Often, that new model of your phone is  out by the time you buy the last one.  Maybe we’ll come up to a point where there is no discernable difference between the functionality and strengths of one particular phone over another.  In the meantime, just pick the data plan that’s right for you and trust that I can manage the same.

Ben TononColumnistsOpinionSociety


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