Phones - what happened to us?

21 June 2022

Don't get me wrong, phones do a lot of stuff really well. I can't dispute that and I don't think anyone else can, not without sounding like a total chump.

That being said, now we're a a few years into the realm of some people using phones as their only devices, especially the younger generation (I promise this won't turn into a "damn these kids" rant, my generation are just as bad) there are some really worrying trends popping up.

As a "90s kid", as much as I hate that phrase, I remember growing up being treated like some kind of arcane computer witch, inherently capable of doing the incantations to make the computer go. Of course, it wasn't that - it was the fact I had things I wanted to make the computer do, unlimited time (lol who does homework), no money, and access to an internet where you could very easily find out how to do technical things.

These motivations mostly came from having a garbage computer, living in a time before Plug 'n' Play, and software being so expensive that it really truly sucked if you couldn't get it working on your computer. (bah, back in my day we had to walk uphill both ways to the shop to buy software in a box)

So what's this got to do with phones? Phones were the beginning of appliance computing. Something you weren't supposed to tinker with. Jailbreaking and Android filled this niche at first, but rapidly fell by the wayside as corpos got better at stopping you from doing it, or disabling mobile payment systems if you "compromised" your phone.

Combine this with the big corporations turning the internet into social media advertising hell, and you've got a situation on your hands. Loads of people have devices that are actively made worse if you try to mess with them in any way, they're (now) fairly slick, not requiring much user maintenance, and you have a generation leaving adolescence with these devices and another two growing up surrounded by them. Meanwhile, you have older generations just assuming that "the kids" will continue to be computer whisperers.

What does this lead to? Frankly the implications are worrying. For every young person I've seen in my field (professional computer touching) do extremely well, I've seen at least five others who are basically incapable of using a computer and are fully just bullshitting in the most see-through way possible. To be clear, there are plenty of chancers in the industry so this is nothing new, but there are a lot of "I've only ever used mobile devices" tells, like using capslock instead of shift.

Even in my generation, I see people who I knew grew up doing similar kind of dumb computer stuff as me have their skills fully atrophy thanks to devices that are just "easy". As I said earlier, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and I've seen people arguing that the push to revive Web 1.0 is to go back to a time when people were 'excluded' because the barrier of entry was higher.

The thing is, I don't think that's a fair assessment. What you actually get as a result of these changes to how people interact with the web is this: you get your dumbed-down device, you get your centralized social media, and extremely easy "web", and you're intentionally kept in the dark from how things work. What use is it to the corpos to give you any way out of the hell? They want to keep you looking at the screen for your instant dopamine, to get those sweet sweet advertising dollarydoos.

To be clear, I don't have any solutions to this other than the one I practice myself: put the phone down and ignore it. It is an evil device, designed to make your life easier, but practically just makes you stupider. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and apparently, apps.

Proudly made on my iMac G5

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