Smartphones tell us what to do, where to go and let us play Angry Birds. And when we need them the most, they run out of batteryby Sam Leith / February 23, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
For want of a nail, we’re told, the kingdom was lost. Wise words, those. I find myself more and more interested in the way that apparently insignificant problems propagate. Let’s say, for instance, that the page-turn on a digital reader is just one fraction of a second slower than you’d like. An individual reader will get used to it. But if five or ten million people bought that device, and read 100 books each on them, generations’ worth of human time would vanish forever into those tiny digital interstices.
I am, as you may have guessed, one of those people who frequently lies awake at night, jaw clenched, blinking into the darkness because he read somewhere that by the time he dies he will have spent 38.5 days brushing his teeth. And now, a fear that has so far been largely subliminal has come galloping out of the old unconscious to cough its pilchardy breath in my face.
Slightly less than 24 hours after passing its MOT, my bastard car expired with a dyspeptic “pop,” an eiderdown of white smoke pouring from the bonnet. And so my heavily pregnant fiancée, 18-month-old daughter and self were stranded at the side of the A4000 in cold drizzle, trucks thundering past, cursing our luck. Miles, as it happened, from the house in which we were supposed to be feeding my mum’s cats.
My partner and our offspring went off in a taxi while I waited for the tow truck. But over the course of the afternoon, my grim journey by tow truck to garage to taxi gained another layer of tension. By teatime, both my phone and my other half’s were running out of battery. And when either died, we would no longer merely be inconvenienced: we would have no way of finding each other short of hoping to bump into the other while Christmas shopping on Oxford Street sometime in the next decade.
There is that missing nail. Though smartphones may have changed the lives of many of us for the better, they have also added a dangerous dependency. You now move from charging oppor…