Smart Phones Pros and Cons - Can the Writer Live Without One?
No matter how good of a writer you are, if you don't somehow get your message out to the public people will never know you existed, unless of course your name is Franz Kafka. Kafka is a now famous writer who spent his life toiling away in an insurance office and never really got around to promoting his writing. Finally, after good old Franz was dead and buried, things started to happen when his friend Max took his works to be published instead of burning them as instructed. In this manner Franz finally became wildly successful, influential and famous. It is the subject of raging, heated, vociferous theological and metaphysical debate about whether our deceased Franz really knows or cares about his crazy success on any level, since it all took place after he was dead.
Most of us writers don't want to wait until after we are dead to become famous. Most of us would like to achieve prosperity plying this trade in the here and now, not after we are sitting on some fluffy white cloud playing the harp with the angels, or down in the sulfurous pit banging our head to death metal with the demons. Who knows whether they even have an Internet connection in either of those places, so we can check our hub views.
But we no longer have to wait for posthumous success, like Kafka did. For a lot of people who struggled becoming noticed before, the wonders of the Internet have made success possible in our lifetimes. This improvement in a writer's prospects has taken place basically because the Internet has eliminated the middleman. It is no longer necessary for the writer to toil through the tedious process of submitting manuscripts and watching the rejection slips pile up in the garage. Now we can show our collective middle finger to the middleman, publish our material instantly online, and let it succeed or fail on its own merits, not on the whim or bias of some bored editor slogging through mountains of submissions. Therefore, technology has become the aspiring writer's best friend, but has it also become somewhat of a double-edged sword?
Enter the Smart Phone
The smart phone has changed the game even more for the online writer. This is because the key to success to Internet writing seems to be building an effective social network through sites such as Hub Pages, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Just as in the produce industry, the creation of a large audience of readers through social networking requires keeping everything fresh. New posts have to made on a daily basis and notifications have to be checked and responded to promptly. The writer does not want to give the impression that he is like my two sons, who I know read my text and Facebook messages but never reply. No, the writer wants to be engaged with his or her audience and make them believe that he really cares, even if he really doesn't. Of course, because I have no social life I love every one of my online friends as if they were my intimate family members. I realize this is sad and sort of pathetic, but I think it beats sharing my home with dozens of cats.
Up until about three months ago I did not own a smart phone. Of course I was the laughingstock of the neighborhood, and my children no longer respected me. Dogs on the street that used to let me pet them were now shying away. Remember that this is California, where everything is slick and glossy and superficial, even the dogs. Although I really had no desire to keep up with my neighbors, I could recognize the practical advantages of a smart phone, so when my cellular provider offered me an iPhone 4 for (free?), I finally broke down and got one.
What follows is an account of how the smart phone is changing my life, for good and for bad. These are only preliminary results, because I've only had the thing for three months, but I think they are indicative of things to come.
Smart Phone Advantages
The primary advantages of the smart phone lie primarily in being able to more effectively manage an online audience with social networking tools. The smart phone's advantages are particularly relevant for those of us who are rarely home and don't have the luxury of being able to watch the computer with one eye and learn new family friendly recipes from Rachel Ray with the other. Even though I consider it my hobby and not my real job, the US Mail requires a lot of my attention. Because I am involved in postal related activities anywhere between 8 to 11 hours per day, I am the poster boy for someone who needs a smart phone to keep up.
Before I owned a smart phone it was a struggle to squeeze time in to write while at the same time performing all of the necessary social networking tasks. Bouncing between the two had me as loopy as a blindsided quarterback being lifted off of the turf on a stretcher. Multitasking like this while writing is not often advisable. Unless the writer is one hell of a good engineer his train of thought can become derailed quite easily and go careening off a cliff face to explode in flames at the bottom of some dark chasm, never to be recovered.
Therefore, what the smart phone has done for me is to make it possible to perform those mundane social networking tasks while I am away from home. I can now check my email wherever I happen to be stuck in a temporary holding pattern; waiting for my pills at the pharmacy (writers need lots of pills), standing in line at the grocery store or post office, taking care of business in the bathroom (unpleasant image but true), and worst of all, idling at long traffic lights. Don't lecture me - I fully understand the dangers involved in such distractions, which will be covered later. I even use my new phone to search for hub followers at a part time security job I do - nonchalantly hubbing away as the building I am supposed to be watching burns around me.
When I finally get home for my frenzied bursts of computer time, I can now devote it mostly to writing. With the necessary housekeeping having been taken care of while I was out, I can give most of my attention to the creation of hubs, blogs, and fiction. Of course, my wife is still there hovering in the periphery, filling my head with portents of doom, gloom and woe about what will happen if we don't fix the sink and the refrigerator and the washing machine, but since that lovable old gal isn't a smart phone app I can't turn her off. I just have to let her run in the background.
Anyhow, the primary advantage of the smartphone is to help the up and coming writer keep ahead of those bothersome networking chores that are time consuming and sometimes tedious, but probably necessary for success.
Smart Phone Cons - Health Risks
As alluded to in the traffic example, the disadvantages of the smart phone can make the device dangerous to life and limb. Even so, I believe that the primary disadvantages of this mobile communications device lie in the spiritual realm. In essence, it disconnects the writer from reality and imprisons his or her soul inside of that sterile little electronic squawk box.
But let's start with the health risks. Any of you who have ever tried to text and drive, with or without a smart phone, understand the dangers of distracted driving, so I don't have to spell them out. But don't try to bamboozle the Highway Patrolman who pulls you over by saying that you were tweeting with your smartphone and not texting, so technically you were not violating the law. If you really want to scratch off seeing the inside of a criminal detention facility from your bucket list this might be an easy way to do it, but if you are allergic to handcuffs like me you might just want to take the ticket cheerfully and keep your mouth shut. Anyway, if texting while driving is distracting, a smart phone will multiply the distraction level exponentially when Twitter, Facebook, the stock ticker, email, the weather, Face Time, and Candy Crush Saga are added into the equation. Even a calculus major can't solve for "x" on that one.
Another disadvantage of the smart phone is that it is like the obsessive ex girlfriend that needs your attention 24-7. So unless you can figure out how to turn off your notifications from Facebook, Twitter, and the multitude of other social networking apps, you are bound to lose sleep when the alert bell goes off to tell you that @InsomniacJoe is now following you on Twitter! Actually, Facebook and Twitter took it pretty well when I told them to hush up, but try as I may I have not been successful in disabling notifications on the Hub Pages App. No offense folks, but I really don't need to be woken up at 1 AM to be told that the hub "Top Ten Causes of Toenail Fungus in Rodents, which you are following, has a new comment. Luckily most of you sleep at night, so it doesn't happen very often.
Another significant drawback of the smart phone is that it causes the writer to adjust his writing according to Twitter guidelines, instead of the rules of proper English usage. If you have a Twitter account and are a little long winded like me you realize that sometimes it is a challenge to compress your thoughts into neat little 140 character Twitter chunks. Twisting grammar and punctuation on Twitter can actually be entertaining and cathartic; basically because the Tweeters are given a poetic license with no restrictions whatsoever, but the Twitter rules should not carry over into other writing venues.
And yet the other day I found myself stuck in Twitter-think when I started a sentence with the horribly improper contraction "Dya" instead of the correct, Queen-approved "Did you." Yes, desecrating the English language can be satisfying, but these abominations should be left to die there on the unhallowed grounds of the Twitter battlefield and not dragged out into polite society. The smart phone, however, apparently does not know or care about the finer points of language, and even seems to delight in grammatical blasphemy.
Losing Your Literary Soul
Now we come to the most serious drawback to the smart phone, the one that can turn your soul into slick, automated muck.
Before I had a smart phone I used to spend my limited half hour lunch reading. I would find a nice shady spot to park my postal vehicle and then pull out some stained, dog-eared, worn out paperback book. To me these are the finest moments of being a letter carrier, and I worked my way wondrously through such massive novels as Tolstoy's War and Peace, Steinbeck's East of Eden, and a host of other fiction and non-fiction works in this manner, one half hour at a time.
Alas, I think those glorious days have departed, because before I start reading now I have to go through all of my email, and there might be twenty or thirty of these. Then I have to check Facebook to see if I have any new friend requests or other messages, followed by a glance at Twitter to see if I wish to follow any of the suggested follows. By the time I get around to reading I might have 15 minutes left before the bell rings and I have to get back to work.
A few days ago my son lent me the book Flow my Tears The Policeman Said, by the science fiction author Phillip K. Dick. I was really looking forward to reading this because I have not yet sampled the works of this writer, but my smart phone doesn't care. My smart phone tells me there is other more urgent business to take care of. There is a photo to upload to Twitter of a couple of rabid Dobermans that had visions of making me lunch. There are a few ideas for a hub I have to jot down in the Notes app before they escape me. Some people commented on a recent Facebook post and I have to go in and "Like" every one of them so they'll know I am paying attention. A thousand other sundry smart phone chores also have to be taken care of before I can get around to reading, and meanwhile my half hour lunch is rapidly dwindling away.
As of this date Flow my Tears The Policeman Said is still sitting there in my mailbag, sadly unopened, begging for my attention. Has the smart phone stolen my soul? Has the pleasing feel and smell of living paper been permanently replaced by a crass, soulless, blinking screen? Or will I successfully integrate the smart phone into my life so that I am left with a portion of my humanity, and not permanently turned into a mindless slave to some callous robotic master? The old saying Time will Tell probably applies here, but to get the time I have to look at my smart phone. I don't wear a watch anymore.