Is smart really smart?

cell phoneAt some point last year I started to question the reason we called a smartphone smart. At the time it seemed like signing an e-mail with “sent from my i-phone” immediately propelled you to the head of the class.  The very name seems to imply that we become smarter when we use them and if we don’t, well, you have a dumbphone.  We all know what that gets you.  I asked the question at the time: “Does this phone make me look smart?”   I never got the answer and have since started using my own smartphone.  But I still wonder, as I did then, if these things make us smarter at all.  Does having an app that does virtually everything for you actually make you smarter?

My mind was once again stimulated when I read an article this week (here) about some new technologies.  Developers are coming out with new devices that  make everything into something truly ‘smart.’  For example, there is a garbage can that has a smartphone type device on the lid that will take a picture of your garbage and place it on this website where people will then judge how ‘green’ you are.    There are other items like smart toothbrushes that encourage people to brush more, or smart forks that tell us we are eating too fast.  Some of the technology is used in newer cars to keep drunk people from driving or to warn drivers that they are tired.  The problem is in figuring out who gets to decide how much brushing is enough or how fast is too fast, or what to do about a driver that appears to be tired.    The burden to act properly gradually shifts off you to a device that tells you what is right and wrong.  You then are at the mercy of some device.  It seems like I have seen this movie, haven’t you?

I do wonder if more of these devices are in use will companies require them to get things like, say, insurance?    What if the government starts using these for some sort of ‘big brother’ type project?  It has potential to lead to dangerous places.

By gillyberlin (Flickr: Motorola Milestone Test) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By gillyberlin (Flickr: Motorola Milestone Test) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Technology should be used and used as much as we possibly can.  When used properly, we are able to do many more things more efficiently.   But using these devices in place of thinking is a real problem.  This is the same reason we still teach our kids how to actually do math without a calculator, even if they beg, like mine did the other night, to use the calculator.  They need to learn how to solve problems on their own.  We do too.  We don’t need to be controlled by a bunch of smart devices, we need self-control.



  1. Big Brother has been a concern of mine for a while. I read today (Wall Street Journal?) about some employers are monitoring purchases of alcohol and food to see if you’re indulging in unhealthy practices. As much as I love my devices, I won’t turn on the tracking or “sign in” when I’m somewhere. Usually if I say I’m in Atlanta, it’s only because my husband is still at home. Otherwise, I try to not say I’ve visited until I get back home.

    As for thinking for yourself, yeah, big problem there. I see it with younger staff a lot. I’m surprised they can pass the CPA exam when so few of them are capable of analytical thought.


    1. The lack of thinking really concerns me. It might sound crazy, but I think that we are only asking for trouble because technology does fail. What if it does fail in a very large way? I hope it never happens, but what shape will we be in if we can’t use our smartphones? I don’t know. I just know that there would be a lot of lost people out there.

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