Thursday, December 3, 2009

Your Smart Phone Is Making You Look Stupid


Many people - dare I say most? - today have "smart phones", mobile telephones which not only engage in telephony but also have cameras and lots of nifty applications, including email. Smart phone owners may feel very proud of themselves for being high tech, "with it" and, well, smart. Alas, I have bad news: your smart phone is making you look stupid.

The data which have led me to this conclusion have come from several sources over the last few months. The first are emails from my students. An unseemly number of emails - usually asking me to excuse their absences, raise their grades or otherwise do something nice for them - lack a proper salutation. Moreover, they usually lack capitalization. And some days the students really seem to be gunning for my ire, with messages such as, "when r u going to give back the essays?"

The second source of data is an international discussion forum - by invitation only - of highly educated people discussing matters of great importance. One might expect higher standards in such a place, even if it is only an online forum. However, while the incidents are rarer, it is not by a wide margin. Typos abound. Capitalization is frequently optional. And comments are frequently terse, with antecedents unclear and thoughts undeveloped.

A third source of data comes from students who spend their class time twittering, playing games or otherwise distracting themselves from the studies for which they/their parents/the taxpayers are spending good money.

There are, of course, logical explanations for all these occurrences. Classes are boring and, besides, the professor won't notice me texting the girl sitting next to me. The buttons on phones, no matter how generous, are not as large as those on a keyboard (which, oddly enough, are usually just a tad larger than one's fingertips), making typos a fact of life. And in an effort to curtail the frustrating and time-consuming process of typing on such a thing, shorthand is common. Finally, many smart phones simply are not capable of differentiating capital letters.

However, there are good reasons to dismiss all these explanations. The professor can see you and does think less of you for allowing the little gizmo in your hand to distract you from your studies. Many smart phones can do capital letters (though you usually have to press an extra button or two - what a time-waster!), making a lack of capitalization unacceptable. But more to the point: if you cannot craft an adequate business message on your phone, what business have you using it for business at all? If you think that the ability to send über-prompt messages will outweigh their sloppy contents, I assure you it does not. The only message that your terse communiques, sans capitalization, sends is that their contents were not of sufficient concern to you to bother sitting down at a computer and sending a proper email.

It would seem that I must amend my title statement. Your smart phone is not making you look stupid: it is revealing you for the idiot you are.
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