Mobiles squirking, mobiles chirping
Smart phones encourage parents to overstructure the lives of the current generation of students
Last week’s release of the new iPhone 5 sent both Apple’s clients and critics abuzz with speculation on the new changes, their implications for the future and how they will affect the lifestyle of Apple consumers. The new model is reportedly longer, thinner, faster and is already expected to double other versions in sales over the next week. For Apple’s devoted fan base, the iPhone 5 is yet another brilliant addition to their stockpile of black and white accessories that also just happen to call, text and Facebook chat in the blink of an eye. For most of the nation’s cynics, however, it is another one of Apple’s unnecessary, overhyped, pretentious variations on a regular phone.
Of course, it isn’t just a phone. The excitement over the iPhone 5 and previous models is fueled by something beyond a means of simply contacting others. Music storage, games and millions of iPhone “apps” are all evidence of that. In reality, the smartphone revolution led by Apple and other companies has catalyzed a greater lifestyle revolution which has molded our generation.
And I’m not talking about the smartphone’s effect on productivity in the business sector, or even its effect on the “new media” like Twitter and YouTube. The merits of such effects, while groundbreaking, do not accelerate the biggest change in the way we live. The most important — and harmful — byproduct of the smartphone culture is actually simpler than that, and has to do with the way we, as a generation, communicate with our parents.
Yes, parents. Looking back, there was seldom a day within the last month that I didn’t at least text one of my parents, and the fact was that they usually texted first. My testimony and those of several of my friends are enough to prove that teaching one’s parents to use smart phones can either be amusing or frustrating, and often a little of both. This fact has become so widely acknowledged for our generation that there is even a web site “Whenparentstext.com” to post instances in which “parent texting” has gone hilariously wrong.
But the truth is parents can now text their kids to know where they are, and can even download an application to track the whereabouts of their phones. This and many other examples are exactly how the smartphone revolution has helped us become the most supervised generation in history.
The comparative supervision of our generation is confirmed by people who are older. New York Times columnist David Brooks was one of the first to point out how children who are currently in college have had their entire lives carefully constructed for them. From soccer practice to college applications, today’s graduates have been taught to jump a series of formulated hurdles in hopes of reaching a finish line of success. For our generation, these hurdles were the sole goals of our existence, and often provided the means by which we defined ourselves relative to others. Brooks states, however, that planned lifestyles will not suit our needs beyond school, once we enter the ever-entropic world.
How does communication tie into the entropy, or lack thereof? For parents, it fuels it. As children, most of us had to communicate with parents before leaving the house to go somewhere, or at the very least, had the means of telling them where we were afterwards. But not many of us were Tom Sawyers. In fact, I don’t know of a single parent who would let his or her child play in the woods for several hours at a time, or at least, not without a cell phone. This shapes the relationship we have with everyone beyond parents — teachers, professors, and eventually, bosses — and the “permission” and “planning” creates an atmosphere of structure and security. By consequence, we “expect” too much from the communication, mainly because when we were young, such things were “expected” of us.
These expectations, of course, existed before Apple’s iPhone was released. I would suspect that most students, including myself, were supervised whether or not we owned a cellphone of any kind. The point is, however, that the iPhone, its apps,and its cultural significance have made it even easier for parents to supervise, and consequently, easier for kids to schedule and plan. In short, the practice of “supervision” was already there, but the rising use of smartphones has propelled it forward.
A structured and supervised culture, however embedded it is within our lives, does little to parallel the world beyond our schooling. As a result, the routine of staying connected and jumping hurdles, while useful, should not be the procedure by which a college graduate should live his life. My understanding is that the real world will not be concerned if you play in the woods for six hours straight, nor will it offer a specific path to ensure success. When entering the realm of entropy and making sudden decisions, it is important to remember that unlike most other things, there is no “app” for that.
Denise Taylor’s column appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.