03 May 2011

On a Quest to Simplify - Do You Really Need a Smartphone

This is a guest post by Marin Ívan PhD, expert in the field of eco-technologies from Islandia Geomatics. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

10 years ago, having a mobile phone was a must, a need and a fashion. Mobile communication took life as we knew it and threw it in a whole different direction. I am sure you will never forget your first call on your mobile phone. Remember the thrill of walking the streets while talking to your mom? The mobile phones from the time had the essential functions we needed, they let us call and send text messages and this was more than enough!

10 years later, with the growing invasion of Internet, Internet enabled devices, Internet connections and Wi-Fi, we are no longer satisfied with a simple mobile phone. We need something special, sleek and smart... yes, I am talking about the smartphone.
Source: Mr T. in DC

What makes the smartphone different:
  • touch screen
  • more advanced computing ability and connectivity
  • easier Internet access
  • Wi-Fi Internet connectivity
  • GPS
  • personalization and customization by downloading (free or paid) applications
  • two-in-one - a handheld computer and a mobile phone
So, basically, the smartphone is the mobile phone we had 10 years ago with added functionality and a bigger screen. But do we actually need this?
Source: Variations on normal

Useless functions your old phone didn’t have and you are prompted to believe you cannot live without:

Wi-Fi: Most of the present day smartphones have Wi-Fi and can connect to the Internet using a wireless network offered by hotspots (this service is sometimes free but mostly not). But how often do you actually browse the web on your smartphone and how comfortable is it for you? Can you do it in the broad daylight? Do you use it as if you were on the computer or just for emergencies?

GPS: You have seen the commercials emphasizing on the GPS function of a smartphone. But let me ask you something, how many of your friends use it? Have you heard them talking about global positioning system and location? Do they know they have a GPS in their phone? In an emergency situation can you send your GPS coordinates with an sms fast and easy? In fact, you can't, simply because no Android or iPhone or Windows Mobile Phone offers this function.

Calendar: When was the last time you synched your calendar with the one on your computer?

Touchscreen: 10 years ago we could operate the phone single-handedly. The sleek touch screen robbed us of this pleasure. Just try and make a call with one hand!

The smartphone is undoubtedtly a fashion icon and as such it successfully incorporates lots of services that many people would like to have. But let’s be honest, we need the phone to make phone calls, it is as simple as that!

Carbon footprint of the smartphone
The smartphones consist of a lot of rare and expensive materials and elements which are not present in ordinary phones. They are expensive and increase pollution – it takes more resources to produce them, they need bigger and stronger batteries and most importantly, they are … aluminium. And to produce aluminium you use lots of energy. It doesn’t sound very hopeful in an energy hungry world, right? We are struggling to find resources to produce energy and on top of that we need more energy to make aluminium for mobile phones which we don't actually need.

Have you thought what it takes to produce energy? You either need nuclear power plants or  hydro power plants. These are the two main sources of energy production and both of them destroy the environment in the long term.

The price we all have to pay
In the global economic crisis we are going through, with prices always growing, owning a smartphone is reversely correlating to the global trend of reducing. We have to reduce not only our expenditures, or the water waste, we need to reduce our use of technology.
Infographic by Islandia Geomatics

My choice
10 years ago, when I had a simple mobile phone, apart from writing software for mobile phones I was also a heavy mobile internet user. Unlike my friends who didn’t really believe one could have Internet on their phone, I have been using Internet ever since the first Internet enabled phone until last summer, when I bought a smartphone but had to return it simply because it didn’t match my expectations.

I came to the conclusion that I’d better relax, listen to my thoughts and have the occasional phone call or message. I prematurely freed myself of a lot of stress in a world already full of stress. I decided I didn’t need to check my Facebook account, my email and my twitter, just because I had access to them. I officially refused to always be present in all forms of social networks through my phone.  And most importantly, I asked myself the question: If Internet is all around us and we all have laptops, do we really need another device that costs a laptop, does much less and helps diminishing the planet’s resources?

You might want to read the other posts in the series On a Quest to Simplify: