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Thomas Michalski
Smart phones make us isolationists
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A few months ago I surrendered my Verizon 4G smart phone. It was an ostentatious instrument, capable of doing everything from reporting the exact time in Baruun-Urt, Mongolia, to broadcasting country music from Toad Suck, Ark.

For two years my trusty Android robbed me of hours upon hours of time as I searched the Web for tasty treats like akutag, a frosty Arctic dessert made from seal or moose fat, to goodies from the Weird Food Club of New York City that includes scorpion with chili peppers, broiled snake, goose intestines, and brain soup. Ummm. Yummy!

Then there was the probing of news sites from around the world, or listening to live stream radio stations from distant places like Fiji, Iceland, Fairbanks, and Tampa. (OK, so Tampa is not that far away.) I thrilled to the days of yesteryear on an old time radio app as the Lone Ranger galloped across the plains with his faithful companion, Tonto, or the creaking door as the Shadow emitted his bizarre guffaw.

I had about 100 apps on my Android phone that included a pedometer, camera, heart rate monitor, maps, instructions, communications, games and even a nifty smell-o-app that allegedly spewed the fragrance of morning coffee, searing burgers on a grille, and even sensuous come-up-to-my-place-sometime perfume. I never did get that one to work.

Although people warned that smart phones are as addictive as recreational drugs at a meth clinic, I signed the contract that catapulted me into cyber space. Vanished were the days of watching the human entertainment at Walmart. I could watch the People of Walmart website instead. At night I remained secluded in a rear room punching the minuscule keyboard to chat with computer-generated friends I never met. I played Scrabble with a woman in Japan who created unrecognizable words like dapifer and sepulchral to beat me into submission. I exchanged messages with a farmer in a small North Dakota town who bragged about being able to start the family pick-up truck in 56 degrees below zero weather.

AT&T developed the first wireless network in 1946, but the gizmo that combined a telephone and computer didn’t come along until 1973. By the late 1990s the Palm Pilot and the Windows Pocket PC were gaining popularity. Early smart phones had limited functionality and, with the exception of Japan, were relatively unknown in most of the world. Then along came the BlackBerry, dubbed the CrackBerry, due to its addictive appeal. It reigned supreme until Apple and Android versions were introduced a few years later.

Apple in 2007 ushered in the first iPhone that offered a touch screen to replace the diminutive stylus keyboard. The Google-backed Android arrived two years later. The rest is history.

The future holds many wonders such as folding phones sans batteries that will be powered by radio, television and cellular signals. Google Glass ... eyeglasses with built-in mini computers ... is being developed along with surgically implanted micro projectors that will beam touch screens on hard surfaces such as desks, tables and even public restroom walls. The technology will be available to the public within five years.

The smart phones, numbered at approximately 500 million worldwide, also create environmental, social and other challenges. They contain toxic chemicals like arsenic and mercury. They are the prominent target of thieves and other villains. They cause innumerable motor vehicle accidents thanks to inattentive drivers who simply must check messages and websites while piloting 2 tons of steel down a highway at 65 mph. Then there are the security issues, too plentiful to mention here.

People spend more time on their smart phones than interacting with friends, neighbors and relatives. I once saw a mother and young daughter at a tire store communicating with each other via smart phone ... while seated in the same waiting room!

What it boils down to is that people don’t talk anymore; they text or email or leave messages on Facebook and other social media sites. Kids fail to foster human relationships, and are clueless about the world beyond modern electronics.

I enjoy not being held hostage by my Android smart phone. It now rests soundless in a desk drawer; its screen forever extinguished while I blissfully converse with people face to face and, for better or worse, remains somewhat ignorant of the frivolities in cyberspace.

I now have an old-fashioned flip phone if someone needs to talk with me. And if I burrow around the attic long enough I can probably exhume my prehistoric Ma Bell black dial phone with a real ringer that graced my desk a million years ago.

And who knows ... maybe I can invent a holster of sorts to carry it on my hip. I could actually launch a whole new fad!

Thomas Michalski is a retired Tampa Bay Newspapers editor. He can be reached at
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