I use my iPhone constantly. Compulsively, even. It's with me wherever I go. But you'll rarely catch me talking on it. I hate phone conversations. And nothing has made it easier to ditch phone talking than the self-nullifying smartphone itself.
Talking on the phone is awful. Unless it's your girlfriend halfway across the world, an elderly relative who doesn't know any better, or begging your lawyer for help from a downtown jail, phone conversation is gratuitous. It's devoid of all of face-to-face's wonderful nuance - scrunched eyes, half smiles, head scratches - and stuffed with all of the bullshit decorum. The pleasantries. The pauses. The catching up. Nobody wants to catch up. If you need to catch up, you don't know shit about the other person for a reason. The phone conversation is a vestige of past eras in which you had to keep track of the mundanities of your friends' lives, lest they challenge you to a pistol duel or exclude you from a ball (my memory of social studies is hazy at this point). But it's an outdated form. The wonder is gone. The novelty of a transmitted human voice is kaput, and in its place sits a vessel for every way we're forced to be polite and phony.
I'm a SeamlessWeb addict. Disgustingly so. At this point, the delivery people just hand me my food and walk away, shaking their heads in disgust. But I love it. And today, they've got a new app out for Android, letting you tap in deliveries from anywhere. Some don't understand the point.
Sure, I could call the burrito place, and have them ask me to hold, and then order, and then read my credit card number over the phone. Or I could use an app and do it with a few button touches. I'd much prefer the latter.
I want to eat dinner tonight. I'll use the OpenTable app to make a reservation. I won't have to be put on hold, or wait for someone to check with their manager, or have to yell over the din of restaurant noise.
I get lost on my way to the restaurant. I won't have to call the place, or call who I'm eating with, or call anyone. I can look it up using Google Maps. I don't have to bother anyone. We can skip all of the unpleasant conversation - which is most of it, really - and head straight into dinner. A dinner at which all parties involved will probably just be staring at their phones anyway. But that's another issue entirely.
At this point you're probably wondering if I'm some sort of sociopath or introvert - but it goes a lot deeper than being able to skip 10 minutes of awkward burrito talk. Yes, smartphones being less phone and more computer isn't a breakthrough notion. But Phones, for the first time in their history, are being designed to undermine their primary function - making calls. It's almost paradoxical. The phone I carry isn't just able to offer me magical services (Maps! Internet! Vintage-y photos!), it's actually facilitaitng a world in which I never have to talk to anyone. A dream world.
Hello, how are you today? This is _________ from _________. Okay, take care! Hey man, how's it going? Just wanted to _________ to see if you __________. Okay, later man. Hey, sorry to interr—oh, no, no it's okay—wait I can't really hear you—oh, no, I can call back, that's fine.
My phone has, to a large extent, freed me from all that, because it's designed to kill the phone call. It's trimming its own fat.
Consider the text. No longer is the SMS inbox an inbox at all. The list is gone. It's chat-like now - more like a river of IMs than static blasts of SUP and WHERE R U. Graceful keyboards and conversation-like interfaces have supplanted the actual conversation. Talking about run of the mill dumb stuff doesn't require the requisite spoken prelude and pointless goodbyes - whip it out, tap it out, cut to the chase, stick it back in your pocket.
And the image. If I see a motorcycle accident, or hilarious fat guy in a tiny car - snap - I can dispense with the breathless storytelling.
Through all of these apps and ways to share, you've cut out a bit of human pointlessness. Sharing something insane through MMS is sure as hell better than having someone call you up to tell you about it. Almost every one of the best smartphone apps—Twitter, to avoid having to hear the attempts at wit of others, Wikipanion, to avoid calling someone up with an obscure question, Text, to preclude yelling "TURN OFF FIFA I'M TRYING TO FUCKING SLEEP" at my roommate - shield me from an incredibly annoying world.
And this is great, because it makes room for the good things. The dinners, the parties, the arguments - the thing the telephone mutates. The phone call will always, I imagine, have a place on our devices (there will always be those times you're trapped under a boulder, or need to abruptly hold your phone up to your face and pretend to be talking to someone in order to avoid an unwanted situation). But it'll be an increasingly irrelevant one. And I'll be smiling, eating Thai food from SeamlessWeb. Feel free to join me! Just text before you come over.
Ed note: I disagree with this concept very much, but that doesn't mean it's not a valid way to conduct your life. You'll hear more from me on the opposite side of this soon. –JC