The smartphone is the perfect spy gear of days of yore: there is a camera, a video recorder, a video player, a music player, a mobile computer and a touch-screen interface. There is a live video conferencing. You can perform retina scans, scan barcodes, and read documents. There are a million applications for everything you might need to do. There is even a flashlight. Pretty soon, Siri will make you a cup of tea with her replicator. What was technologically impossible 25 years ago now sits in our hands, a one-size-fits-all multi-media extravaganza that goes anywhere we go, providing all our technology needs. What has this technology done to our brains, our lives, and our families?
In my father’s house, we had a very special room called a “den.” Inside, there was a huge stereo amplifier, an AM/FM receiver, a turntable, a cassette player, speakers, a TV, VCR (video cassette recorder) and a library full of magazines and books. Beside that, there was the record collection, photo albums, and a computer system that nowadays could not power a clock radio. My father built our room with his own two hands—my dad is the kind of guy who does things like that. He built a sailboat in our garage when I was ten. He has always been building things, remodeling, and installing. He even made a remote-controlled airplane. The things most people go out and buy, he just builds, and they are true testaments to one human being’s ability to learn new tricks even late in life. Yet, he refuses to purchase a smartphone.
He has never bought a smartphone, and I think he never will. Not because it would confuse him— his DNA successfully made the leap into the computer age—no, I don’t think he wants one because he likes his den, and that’s where that sort of technology belongs. My father comes from the time and place where everything that fits into a smartphone would fill a room. These were things that you have earned for your family slowly over years. The technology in it was for relaxing after working. It was not meant for the subway, nor for a freshman language class.
In contrast, what once filled the den is now glowing behind your touch-screen. You can be entertained anytime, anywhere. Entertainment is not a reward at the end of a long day’s work; it is interactive, mobile, and included in whatever you are multi-tasking. Now, the Oracle answers every question you Google or send to Wikipedia. We no longer ask the dusty Encyclopedia Britannica collection.
The design of your virtual den is based on how you want to see the applications, not on how well the stereo looks next to the television. However, it remains a reflection of who you are and what you do for leisure. It embodies things you find meaningful, and it is all built for you when you buy it. It is evolution occurring in front of our very eyes. And my father will not ever get one. He is happy with his den and the memories that it contains.
* Professor Christopher Scott Weagle graduated with an MA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of New Brunswick in Canada. He has been living in Korea for 10 years.