eXtensions - Monday 4 June 2018


Cassandra - Smartphone Zombies: Apple's Fault too

By Graham K. Rogers


The smartphone has a great priority in some lives: it interrupts conversations and meetings; taxi drivers take calls when driving; and otherwise-sensible people enter a trance state when using devices while walking in public places. This sometimes creates risks for themselves and for others.

I am a regular user of public transportation systems in Bangkok. This is much like other cities with its commuter train system (albeit limited), buses, taxis and other feeder systems. Sometimes I even walk. Despite the technical nature of transportation, walking plays a big part in getting around, especially entering and leaving stations on the commuter systems here.

A report in Patently Apple discusses the reduced use of Facebook by young people. This article also mentioned the wider use of smart devices, with the addiction levels doubling in the last 3 years: 45% of teens say they are online almost constantly. Some of the switch from Facebook has been taken up by YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat.

Trying to navigate the platforms, stairs and exits of stations here, as well as walking along streets and through the shopping malls (airconditioned mercifully), my progress is frequently stopped by others, totally absorbed by their devices: oblivious to anything or anyone. In an apparent trance. And let's not blame teens for this as many of these mall zombies are much older.

You can't help notice the apps being used: messaging, including Twitter, and Facebook feature, of course. As well as those coming towards me, there is more of a risk on the stations from those going in the same direction, especially when they stop, perhaps on a platform or the stairs, with several people behind all bunching up. If I need to answer a message or make a note, I find somewhere to stop out of the way of others.

I experienced this behaviour when trying to leave a station earlier today and again this weekend at one of the busiest stations in Bangkok where there are already several posters warning about such use of devices. A young teen (I guess 15) stopped dead, two steps down the stairs. Brakes on: everyone behind forced to take avoiding actions. I noticed that he was playing a multiplayer online game: RoV or Arena of Valor. I recognised this as it is the same game that many of my students like; and I have seen it being played by other smartphone zombies.

The Patently Apple reported on a shareholders' letter to Apple demanding that Cupertino "do something", but surely it is not really Tim Cook's problem, as other smartphone makers apparently sell more phones, with Android the leading OS for several years (Statista). Apple makes more profits, of course, but that does not necessarily translate into smartphone zombie numbers (perhaps the opposite), or responsibility.

Apple might wave its magic wand for social responsibility and be blamed when restrictions are introduced - remember the Walled Garden? Legislation might be considered, although that also has negative connotations in societies which are already over-controlled, or in those countries in which laws are often enforced selectively.

Education? Some countries are still unable to stop drivers drinking or using phones, or make them use seatbelts. There is also the logic of cancer risk from smoking. It may just take some harsh reminders as others walk into the oblivious phone users, or the users themselves fall, although as a YouTube video shows, this is not having much effect just yet.

Expect no sympathy from me, but don't blame the smartphone makers entirely.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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