SMART PHONES AND DUMB PEOPLE

I do like a good lyric poem, which the dictionary defines as “a poem expressing personal (often emotional) feelings and are traditionally spoken in the present tense. Modern examples often have specific rhyming schemes and are sometimes also set to music or to a beat.”

I recently came across a modern version which comes complete with music and video called “Smart phones and dumb people” which resonated with me, and if you haven’t already seen it (tens of thousands have), I highly recommend it.

It starts with “I have 422 friends yet I am lonely” which is something that has been in my thoughts, and which I have found perplexing, for some time now (see “Fourth secret of success” posted November 4, 2010). Many people seem to be replacing real life and real relationships with social media friends and relationships (see “Who needs real life” posted February 17, 2011), and this short video and lyric poem covers exactly this situation today.

Author:  	彭家杰 (own work); GNU GPL, CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: 彭家杰 (own work); GNU GPL, CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


It really came home to me on my last trip to Singapore, when my wife and I sat in a coffee shop waiting for our kids and grandkids to turn up so that we could take them exploring through some of the wonders of our old stomping ground. We sat there amused that we were surrounded by young people (the coffee shop seemed to be a bit of a meeting place), and the fact that as soon as they had briefly greeted their friends, they immediately became fixated on their smartphones rather than each other. We were especially fascinated by a young attractive couple sitting near us who, in the more than 30 minutes we were there, barely exchanged a sentence with each other but instead spent the entire time playing games like “candy crush saga” (I sneaked a look when I went to get the drinks when our family arrived).

Author: wayne lee; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: wayne lee; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


At the same I have also long been fascinated by the fact that we seem to be becoming obsessed with abbreviation, and as such we seem to be losing our ability to focus on anything that requires our attention or focus for more than a very short amount of time (see “Abbreviation is gr8ly changing our world” posted April 16, 2012), which has even set the standard expected size of a blog post at about 800 words. I have even had some people comment on the fact that my own posts are a bit long as they tend to be between 1000-1200 words, and as such these readers find it hard to do more than just skim through them.

I therefore started to wonder whether people are still reading books … I mean real books rather than pamphlets with large print like “The one minute manager” and “Who moved my cheese”.

Author: Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine; via Wikimedia Commons


When flying back home from Singapore to France I wandered around the plane a few times as I was interested to see how many people were actually reading a book (tablets and kindles etc., included) and saw that there were actually very few. It seemed to me that that we had given up on books as a source of information, knowledge, entertainment and enlightenment, and this bothered me as I wondered whether people who stop reading will eventually stop thinking. I was therefore interested recently to come across some information that suggests that books (in all their guises), are not only surviving but are actually doing well, with an increasing number of titles being published each year.

The question that then arises is whether these books are actually being read. It appears that the simple answer is that they are not generally being read from cover to cover in many cases.

A Gallup Poll some time back found that there were many more people who said that they were reading a book or novel than did people a decade ago, but fewer people than before could say that they had actually finished a book in the last week. It appears that many books today are purchased to be skimmed or consulted, rather than to be fully read. It also appears that many more books are started than are finished, and I have to admit that I am also guilty of this, something my wife finds unacceptable as she insists on finishing any book that she opens. I stopped reading Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”, after being about half way through, because I then went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage adaptation in London, and therefore felt no need to keep reading it afterwards. I also gave up on “The Luminaries” after about 200 pages, another Man Booker prize winner, despite loving the stunningly beautiful use of language, because I realised that I would struggle with its 834 pages of stunningly beautiful use of language.

Maybe one of the reasons that book sales are increasing is that books do seem to have replaced ties and socks as the gift of choice. I am amazed that every time I visit Australia or New Zealand people give me local picture books as gifts, necessitating my having to pack them into suitcases already at bursting point, and dangerously close to airline weight limits, to get them home. They are lovely coffee table books, but hardly books that I will ever feel the need to open after the obligatory flick through in front of the gift giver. I was the guest at a Bar-mitzvah in Melbourne a few years ago when the officiating Rabbi gave the 13 year old a bible and an umbrella as a gift on the lad having reached religious manhood in his faith, with the statement that at least the umbrella had a reasonable chance of being opened sometime.

Author: Mhhossein (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Mhhossein (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I never stop reading in a normal day, but I have to sadly admit that it is less and less real books that I read rather than the writings of some management guru’s article or blog. I also spend a lot of time on my PC and tablet searching for opinions and information on the needed topics for my own blogs, lectures and speeches, but I do read fewer books than I did a decade ago.

All the information that I need is at my fingertips and easy to find with a few keystrokes, but I do wonder whether this easy access to information is actually making me more immediately knowledgeable but actually less smart in the long term. I too seem to have become a victim of my smarter phone.

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2 Responses to SMART PHONES AND DUMB PEOPLE

  1. cnxtim says:

    Hmm i am sure your are right about the electronic “dumbing down syndrome” but this blog made me reflect on just how fortunate I have become.

    You see, I teach English in a very small school a few kilometers from the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.
    My classes range from age 6 Kindy kids through university students to middle aged adults.

    My formula remains pretty much the same, that is, we begin with a BOOK with a subject that captures the imagination of each of the students.

    So i might start the ankle biters with A.A. Milne “Winnie the Pooh” and for the older students carry on in depth with Arthur Conan Doyle, JD Salinger or O’Henry.

    I use all sorts of aids in the early stages like flash cards, crossword quizzes, coloring pages and play dough but always with the goal of asking in every lesson all Rudyard Kipling’s famous questions from his poem “I have six honest serving Men (They taught me all i knew)”….

    We have had some notable wins (and the occasional lose) from a student who ranked 5th in Thailand for her university admission that year, through to a young lady who is taking her English bachelors degree thesis on the subject of “K-pop”. The notable lose was the brother who departed in a torrent of faked tears when I wouldn’t let him copy the answers from his little sisters workbook.

    Whatever, they all get to recite Macbeth Act 4, Scene 1 (the witches cauldron) and “Clancy of the Overflow” and practice at being the heroine from Pygmalion…”The rain in Spain etcetera, etcetera. etc…

    the students and I both get a lot out of this and without the wonders of Google search and buckets of dodgy ink for my little Brother printer it would never happen… rock on technology..

    Oh i just remembered a great joke from an old Kiwi mate.. “a book, you bought me a book! i got a book already!!”

    Nice to know you Les..and tell Victoria i do miss the cream cakes and soldering at Bank Street..

  2. Adriana says:

    Dear Les, people who read are not obvious while people who play video games in public are. Readers exist and they are far from extinct, but we don’t see them because they are home reading… 🙂 Adriana

    PS: two of your fans love you and Kipling… interesting coincidence

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