Why I Can't Stand Smartphones

A partly-satirical, partly-serious look at these ubiquitous gadgets

May 1, 2013

ou're in the middle of a conversation, thinking the other person is listening, and suddenly he stops to take a call on his mobile phone.   "Oh, what were you saying?" 

That was already happening with mobile phones, but now there's this, too: 

You're trying to talk to someone, and they're absent-mindedly flipping through TPS reports on the touchscreen while most of your words fall to the floor.  

Here's why I can't stand smartphones.  Let me count the reasons.

1.   Smart phones facilitate ID theft.   Big time!  You're probably scratching your head wondering how that could possibly be.  Yeah, well... as you glance in your sideview mirror, you notice the gas station attendant holding his phone camera up to your credit card.  You tell yourself, "Nah, I didn't just see that." 

Two weeks later there are purchases you didn't make.   Huh.  Wonder how that could've happened.

Now imagine this same kind of thing happens to your tax return.  "Why would anyone steal a tax return?"  Yeah, keep telling yourself that.  Meanwhile, it's become an epidemic.  Here's how it works.  Step 1:  They steal your return.  Step 2:  They use your info to file early next year.  Step 3:  they collect the refund.  Then you have a huge ordeal when you send in your (real) return. The thieves don't even need to take the return with 'em anymore.  A couple of quick snapshots on a smartphone, and a shady employee can "share" the photos with her crack-dealing boyfriend.  Instantly.  You like all this technology, right?  

I remember when it was considered sketchy to carry around a Minox camera.  As in, you might be involved in corporate espionage or something.  Well, these dirtbags today who steal tax returns are using smartphones, which have much higher acutance and apparent resolution than a Minox.  That equates to easier document capture... and yet, no one raises an eyebrow.   They'd rather glare suspiciously at the real photographer with the SLR and zoom lens.  That's because television taught them "Zoom lens bad, smartphone good!"  This just goes to show how much Hollywood and marketing have affected basic reasoning.

2.  A Camera Shouldn't Nuke Your Brain or anything else. 

Yes, I know that microwaves are not ionizing radiation.   They don't have to be.   I could sit here and tell you about the paradigm-shifting study by Gregory Dudley et al.   I could tell you that the way microwaves induce chemical reactions may not be as we thought. 

I could tell you that this should not be a surprise, since it's been known for a while that some chemical reactions won't happen any other way but by microwaves.  Go ahead and cook a nice steak in the microwave.  Good, right?   That must be why top chefs use the microwave to prepare all their dishes. 

I could also tell you that in the near-field region ( < 1 * λ ) , RF has effectively an inverse-cube relation to distance.  That means the power is way higher where the phone is stuck to your ear than it is a few inches away.  (Near-field is not usually discussed in undergrad physics courses, or at least it never used to be.) 

Those things are true.  But the easiest way to convey this to you is just to quote CNN from May 31, 2011 ("WHO: Cell phone use can increase possible cancer risk"):

"A team of 31 scientists from 14 countries, including the United States, made the decision after reviewing peer-reviewed studies on cell phone safety. The team found enough evidence to categorize personal exposure as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." "

That's not exactly surprising. 

Bottom line:  you can keep your microwave-emitting camera phone.  My camera works fine the way it is.  Kthanks.

3.  Look, I Don't Want a Monthly Plan for a Camera.
    I want to make photographs, not talk on the phone when I could be making photographs.

It's not that I would never want a phone that can double as a camera.  It's that I don't want a phone-that-doubles-as-a-camera to replace my real camera (not that it could anyway, but stop telling everyone it can).   Getting hooked into a burdensome contract is not a good way to buy a camera, or a phone.  (Some insightful comments on the "iPhone", and the expense of contracts, can be found on Ken's site.)

It would be nice to have a camera "phone" where you could just use all the non-wireless features, without having to buy a contract or "unlock" the phone.  Actually, you can, if you don't want a phone at all.  An iPod Touch would do that.  The reason I don't want one is primarily a technical one, described here.   (The Touch also doesn't have nearly as good a camera as the iPhone).

Because it's so portable, and because it doubles as a personal assistant, the non-phone "camera phone" would still be useful to that same bunch of ID thieves we talked about before.  That's why for safety, we're just going to have to make all cameras weigh at least three pounds and require a tripod. 

Except for film cameras, of course.

4.  Smartphones further drag down photography.   It's not that they don't "take good pictures", but there are limits, and the camera-buying public are not aware of those limits.  The smart phone can do "leaky sky" and blown highlights as well as the next digicam, but forget bokeh or nice tone roll-off.  Smartphones are not an adequate replacement for slide film, or any kind of film.   Advanced photographers use smart phones as a backup, and sometimes they even go out and do photowalks with them.  A few have used smartphones for serious photography, but it's not their "main" camera.

Sure, smartphones make good pictures in the hands of a good photographer.  Their resolution has far surpassed the old 4-MP point & shoot I once used to do this.  That doesn't change the fact that smart phones do not replace DSLR's, and they don't even replace one of these

The other day while I was sitting in a restaurant, I realized how much I don't like smartphones.  It was the moment some random person standing near us took a picture (pretty sure) of me and my wife with a smartphone.   I wouldn't have cared if someone pulled out an old 35mm rangefinder and tried to get a real picture.  What I don't like is the ubiquity of these smartphones, combined with the fact that nine times out of ten, the user is not doing photos for the sake of art.  They're not even doing photos for the sake of getting good photos.

That's sort of the reverse of how most people think, where they get creeped out if someone wants to take a "good" street photograph, but they don't care if someone takes a "snap" of, oh, I don't know.... your credit card at a gas station.  You know, "No big deal.  It's only a smart phone, everyone has 'em." 

Smartphones make me want to roll out this picture, which I wasn't even going to do.

Come on, you had to at least get a smile out of that.  Look at the face on that critter.  I don't think you want walk up to that and take a "quick snap" of it with your smartphone, because it might take a "quick snap" at you

Telephoto is more like it.

Parting Thoughts

I appreciate that some people really enjoy their smartphones, but I'm not in a hurry to use one.  

Don't take any of this to mean that I think smartphones are all bad.  Like most technology, they also have their benefits.  If they sold an unlocked smartphone that were inexpensive, had an 8 to 12 MP camera, and had a Linux desktop, then I might consider one.   The closest I am to wanting a smartphone right now is thinking I might buy this one, if I were in the market for one.  (I haven't tested it out yet, so you're on your own there... but the MeeGo OS is actually based on Linux). 

If I did have a smartphone, I still wouldn't talk much on it, and when I did, I'd hold it some distance away from my ear.  Even Apple tells you to do that much.

Mostly, though, I'd continue to use a real camera (like this one or this one).

And when I wanted to talk to people, I'd call 'em on a real phone.

(Yep, it works.  I switched out the 3-conductor wire for a 4-conductor modular, and we're good to go.  Rotary phones are cool.  (Use this link to buy a vintage one, and it helps keep my website on-line. Thanks!)

If you enjoyed this article, you can help me out by shopping through the links or banners on this site.  If you use the links to buy a smartphone, I won't hold it against you...

...unless you're that shady dude who stole my credit card number at the gas station.

To everyone else but that guy, thanks for reading!

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