published Friday, October 12th, 2012

Phillips: Pondering dumbing down via smartphone

About three weeks ago, I finally bit the digital bullet and joined the rest of you in the 21st century by buying a smartphone.

Well, the majority of you.

In July, Nielsen Media Research data showed that more than half of American cellphone users -- 54.9 percent -- own a smartphone. Between April and July, two of every three U.S. phone purchases were of the always-connected variety, according to Nielsen.

That's not to imply, however, that I was just another cow giving in to peer pressure and joining the slaughter line. (Some might suggest buying an iPhone instead of another device to be a different kind of conformity, but that's a discussion for another day.)

Regardless of my reasons, this move was a long time coming.

For years, I've written about consumer technology, but my gadget obsession dates to kindergarten, when I would beg to play "Space Invaders" on a computer housed in a cabinet the size of an heirloom armoire. Come to think of it, the armoire might actually have had a faster processor.

Ever since I've had disposable income, I've thrown it at the newest "it" technology I could afford, from wireless transmitter-equipped mp3 players and PlayStation Vitas to Bluetooth headphones. What can I say, I like gadgets.

As such, it was something of a running joke among my friends and co-workers that my cellphone was a featureless brick suitable for little more than bludgeoning hoodlums or texting pictures that appeared to have been constructed from Lego blocks. To check my Facebook profile, I had to -- snicker -- find a Wi-Fi hotspot instead of whipping my phone out of my pocket.

When I finally booted up and saw my four signal bars of social acceptance, it was like surfacing after a long dive. The rush of clarity I experienced was enough to make me lightheaded.

Suddenly, I understood why my view of shows at JJ's Bohemia or Track 29 so often is impeded by the sight of upraised hands holding glowing screens. I understood why friends who supposedly are enjoying each other's company at Terminal Brewhouse and O'Heiney's seem to spend more time checking their Twitter feed than looking at one another.

Apple and Verizon have become my enablers, and I've contracted the kind of techno zombie-ism shared by so many other smartphone users.

I shamble around downtown streaming music from Spotify while looking for scenes to capture as Instagram posts. When I go to Band of Horses' show at Track 29 tonight, I'll probably spend as much time live-tweeting as watching what promises to be a truly stellar indie-rock show.

Over time, my conversational skills will probably lapse, but my Klout score will go through the roof, and maybe, just maybe, I'll become the Foursquare mayor of Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches on Market Street.

So yes, I've joined the connected majority. As I consider the time investment necessary to keep up with the Joneses, however, I wonder whether it's worth losing my -- hold on, was that a friend request?

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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