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Jack Zaleski, Published July 06 2013

Zaleski: Gimme a couple of cans and a string

Expounding on our evolving relationship with mobile phones, Forum writer extraordinaire Sam Benshoof said in his Friday column (Variety section, C1):

“Unfortunately, with everyone owning a smartphone these days …”

It stopped me dead in my read. Everyone? No, no, no. Not me. Not a goodly number of friends and acquaintances. Not those of us who bristle like a cornered porcupine at the very notion of a “smart” phone.

Smart, indeed. That’s like calling a coffee maker with a clock and timer “smart.” It’s like assuming your car is “smart” because the new iteration of an impossible-to-fold road map is the (we-know-where-you-are) GPS. It’s like concluding the intrusive cameras in downtown Fargo are “smart” because the police say – but can’t prove – they prevent crime.

Smart phones? You have got to be kidding. The term is as oxymoronic as “social media.” People enmeshed in the social media scam (millions of ’em of all ages) are in fact practitioners of anti-social behavior, and they don’t even know it. Or maybe they don’t care. How is it “social” to send a text to someone sitting a few yards away, rather than getting up off your duff, walking over and conveying a message with (now here’s a radical thought) the spoken word, eye contact, body language, a smile, a sneer?

How crazy is that?

It wasn’t long ago that technology was a tool. It’s flipped. Uncritical, entranced users of technology are tools (victims?) of a brilliant marketing strategy that is the 21st-century version of the old “planned obsolescence” doctrine of the auto companies. For decades, Detroit made cars that rusted out, coughed oil or otherwise fell apart almost on schedule. Time for a new one, and the car companies obliged.

Smiling tech gurus have raised planned obsolescence to an art form. That smart phone you bought yesterday will be old hat next week, not because it won’t work just fine but because the tinkerer/nerds in the tech companies have come up with a new whiz-bang feature – expensive to be sure – that “I must have …”

And why must I have it? Because sophisticated marketing and promotion combined with carefully calibrated rollouts of new gizmos have caused the eyes of otherwise bright people to go all glossy.

If you want to really see the “smart” in smart phone, it’s in the way the ubiquitous things have been marketed. Smart? Hell, it’s brilliant!

Makes me want to tie a string to a couple of tin cans.

Contract Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.