We live in the age of the smartphone. A time when more and more Americans walk around with the history of the world in the hip pocket of their jeans. An era when the space between cutting-edge and out-of-date is constantly shrinking.
The Internet has changed the way that people shop, communicate and learn. The way that countries interact. Really, the way in which people exist within the world.
But until the Blackberry and iPhone made smartphones the norm, the Internet was something you only accessed at home. Now, it is everywhere.
This progress does not come without sacrifice.
Merriam-Webster defines faith as “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Now I’m not going to go so far as to claim that the smartphone has weakened our faith in God. But it has chipped away at the art of casual argument, the ability to make another believe that which cannot be firmly proven.
The beauty of banter, the magic of myth, fades when too much truth is too readily available. We’ve become addicted to facts, and sadly, in our obsession, we have lost something. We have lost the tall tale. We have lost faith in our storytellers.
I used to be the guy who resisted the smartphone. I had my flip phone with the scratched screen and broken camera, and I was damn content to keep it. I was of the belief that “I don’t need to always be online. I’m fine with sitting around and watching the world go by.”
But a couple months ago, my flip phone cracked, and on the trip to the Verizon store, I cracked as well. I’m not proud to admit it, but I went down to the crossroad and sold my soul for a Blackberry Bold.
The first few weeks, I was hooked. I loved it. Bus rides would melt away as I escaped into my New York Times app. The long lectures went by like a breeze. I used one app to scoreboard-watch and another to read anything and everything about the San Francisco Giants.
It’s not that I didn’t realize I was being dragged out into the deep sea of information — I just saw no reason to struggle against the 3G undertow. I viewed my old self as stubborn, thought I was just being idealistic and gruff.
I was only 21: How could I already be the grumpy old man reminiscing on a simpler past?
But now, two months after my entrance into the new age, the glow has started to fade. I look at my beautiful smartphone and feel dirty. Was it really worth trading away exaggeration and fiction for access to cold hard facts?
Bar banter is the modern day tall tale: more about passion and color than truth. Taverns ring with harmonies of historical fictions, fighting tales and dramatic renditions, all too enthralling to be tethered down by truth. But unfortunately, the smartphone is the antidote to myth.
Before the smartphone, on a Friday night in a smoky tavern, someone with the right amount of passion, reason and social lubrication could convince a group of patrons of anything. He could face the hazy-eyed masses and confidently claim something as far-fetched as the familial connection between Aretha and Ben Franklin.
Sure it would strike some as unlikely. Perhaps the facts were not always perfectly in order. Maybe the arguer’s claims rested too heavily on Ben’s penchant for extra-marital affairs and Aretha’s line “Let yourself be free.” But hey, for that one night, the patrons really could have faith, really could believe in the knowledge and expertise of another.
Nowadays, if that argument began, someone would quickly pull out an iPhone, Google the topic and end the conversation.
As Aretha Franklin, the alleged great-granddaughter of Ben, once said, “You had better stop and think before you think.”
So next time you’re about to take your smartphone out to fact check, stop. Think about why we now need to know everything with absolute certainty. Think about why the word of our fellow patron isn’t truth enough anymore. Think about what the smartphone really gives us.
And, more importantly, think about what it takes away.