… the incessant ramblings of a voluble gal

My Cell Phone Is Making Me Dumber

Posted on: July 1, 2008

As much as I love and preach the rapid growing technologies that are making life and work easier and more effective in less time, the more I hate technology as well.Thanks to Live Digitally for the photo, aka Jeremy Toeman

I am so addicted to all things mobile and how it connects me to the world. I can remember the shortcode for Twitter (40404), but I can’t remember my best friend’s phone number. In fact, I can’t remember anyone’s phone number post 2002, when my father finally bought my very own cell phone. I was late to the cell phone game as most of my friends had been using cell phones for a few years by then, but even 4 years out of the Army I was still clamming for a hard line. Now even my alarm system in wireless and I haven’t had a home phone in three years.

So since 2002 I have been becoming dumber. And I blame it on the cell phone. I mean think about it, before you owned a cell phone, you probably knew all your friends numbers that you called from your private line in your parents house and you could dial those numbers fast as lightening. But now, every time you lose your phone, reset it, or upgrade, you send a message out to Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, or whatever ever social network to ask for everyone to send you their numbers again. Even those whom you have weak ties.

Why bother remember 10 little digits when your SIM card can do it for you?

So what happens when we rely on that technology so much, it fails us in life? We can end up looking like real assholes.

Don, Steve, Sean, Andrea at HBS, 7 April 2008This was the case for me back in April this year for instance. I was flying up to spend some time with my best friend in New Hampshire before heading to Boston to meet with Andrew McAfee, of HBS and to sit in on one of his classes. As the plane landed in Manchester Airport, I turned my T-mobile Dash HTC Excaliber smartphone back on so I could text him that I was on the ground. I was able to see that he had txt’d me he was waiting just as my phone froze. I restarted again and my phone started going into what I call the loop of death. This had happened once before so I knew my only recourse was to hard reset the phone. This meant 30 minutes of unavailability to do anything with it, even make a simple call.

So without a phone, I had no number to let him know I was there and I would be waiting for him. Luckily after 30 minutes and just as my phone was normalizing as I was sitting on a bench outside, he walks up, furious. Why didn’t call blah, blah, blah. He said a true friend would have the number written down elsewhere and couldn’t believe I didn’t have it memorize. To which, if I had, asked someone in the airport to borrow a cell phone for a local call or go to a pay phone.

This was not the first or the last time we had issues getting in touch because of not knowing each other’s numbers. I thought we had rectified this because we had exchanged business cards and (we are best friends mind you) that maybe by now we would have remembered or at least keep the numbers in our wallets.

Um no. It happened again. He lost his phone. His billfold is in storage where he thinks my business card might be. He had no access to get online (the Internet seems to be a novelty for laid back New Englanders) and thus excuses, excuses, blah, blah, blah.

OK so this is a long story to make a point. But as I sit here, many paragraphs later I can only remember the first three digits of his number (603). I still cannot muster up the remaining 7 with absolute certainty and it kills me. I mean I learned Arabic to fluency (which I have also mostly forgotten now), but I cannot remember 10 numbers.

My cell phone does all my day to day brain work for me, besides store numbers. It also emails me my daily calendar from google, I get my news, weather and traffic (see @thebeltway on twitter) via FriendFeed, twitter, and text messaging. I even read interesting feeds while getting iontophoresis during physical therapy in the mornings. I even email myself quick directions for meetings from google maps and in bad traffic on 95 I used Windows Live Search for finding alternate routes home.

Essentially its like my brain saying, try as I might, since some device that fits in the palm of my hand can remember all that information for me, why should I retain it in my head? I mean I don’t know how many times I have gone to t-mobile.com to look up the number of someone whom you would think I would have the number engraved on my knuckles.

Next up … getting my text messages online ? Say it ain’t so.


2 Responses to "My Cell Phone Is Making Me Dumber"

That reminds me of an episode of The Day the Universe Changed. James Burke talked about how people in the Middle Ages could memorize a staggering amount of information and that ability has steadily declined.

You know, I feel the same way about meetings and things that I’m scheduled to do, at home or at work. There use to be a point in time when I could remember everything that was coming up that I had to do. Now, I rely so heavily on Google Calendar, and Lotus Notes Calendar (yeah, I have to use that at work..*ak*) that I can’t even remember what’s happening until 15 or 30 minutes before it’s supposed to actually occur. It’s pretty sad really. The regularly scheduled meetings I always remember b/c they’re simply muscle memory. Everything else is just a line in Lotus…and Google…and BlackBerry.

Thank God for alarm reminders!

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This is the personal blog of Andrea R. Baker. The views expressed within this blog are not representative of her employer, Navstar Inc. or any other professional association.

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While I may post and discuss the social web on this blog, please refer to my professional blog for my thoughts on Enterprise 2.0 and the workplace.

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