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The Cost of Convenience

In addition to having an over-inflated sense of self-worth, young people today are facing another problem: smartphones.

But smartphones are useful tools! But I’m more connected! But I can work from wherever! But, but, but…

Yes, all the above is true. Smartphones are incredibly useful tools. I use my iPhone all the time. They can keep us connected. Allow us to work, play, and more. But there are also costs to such convenience.

In a post at Harvard Business Review entitled SmartPhones, Silly UsersDaniel Gulati, provides an overview of three side effects from having a smartphone as a constant companion:

  • First, we don’t remember anything anymore. Research shows that we’re increasingly outsourcing our personal memory banks to Google and other search engines, effectively wiping our own brains of easily accessible information.
  • Second, we waste time preserving optionality. As the global smartphone user base surpasses 1 billion, more of us are caught in a terrifying, mobile version of the responsiveness trap. As one young entrepreneur remarked, “It’s gotten so ridiculous…I spend more time trading Facebook messages about where to meet, who to invite, and what to talk about than actually sitting in meetings themselves.”
  • Finally, we get stuck in the infinite notification loop. As we accumulate newer and more apps, the competition for our limited attention intensifies. As a result, developers are aggressively bombarding our screens with dozens of daily push notifications in the hope of pulling us back into their individual app.

Sidetalkin. Yes, I went back to 2005.

The reliance on the web as outsourced, long-term storage for our brains is particularly troubling. An essential skill for lawyers is the ability to be fast on their feet. How ridiculous will it be when you’re in person with a client and you have to pull out a smartphone to answer a question? Or how about a courtroom? “Hold on judge, I need to check the Rules of Evidence on my phone real quick to see it that’s objectionable or not.” Please let me know when you do that because I want to be there in person to see it.

Constantly keeping your schedule open is really a viable option either. A lawyer’s schedule is set months in advance. At least, the schedules of all the busy, practicing lawyers I know are booked months in advance. Mine certainly is. Court dates, bar events, office meetings, conventions, family and friends, etc. I rarely do anything at the last minute anymore. If I do, it’s because my schedule had a clearing or you’re a good friend.

And regarding notification loops, I’ve discussed the problems with anticipation and the dopamine effect at length. It’s a trap. Be mindful of it and know when to unplug.

Smartphones will continue more deeply ingrained in our lives. There will be more advances. Smaller, faster, smarter. But at the end of the day, they are just tools. Fancy, bright, shiny tools – but still just tools. You can let them control you, or you can control them.


H/T to Consultant’s Mind for the link to HBR.