You Will Live If You Put Down Your Phone
By Mike Masnick, Tue Dec 21 01:45:00 GMT 2004

We shouldn't underestimate the importance of mobile phones in peoples' lives these days -- however, are some people taking it too far?

Mobile phones are wonderful devices. They let you connect to others in ways that was never really possible before -- which is just part of the reason they've become so popular so quickly. As more phones add data functionality, that usefulness is growing rapidly. However, every once in a while, people need to take a step back and realize they really can live without a phone at times.

This is not a luddite-style article saying people should put down their phones. Nor is it an article worried about mobile phone addiction -- which is often just a concept made up by doctors who want more (easy) business. However, the language around mobile phone usage is getting to the point where it's suggesting that everyone absolutely must have a mobile phone to survive all the time, which risks driving the concept of mobile connected devices too far.

First, comes a study saying that youngsters "can't live" without their mobile phones. It makes you wonder how they determined this. It seems like a question like that can be answered empirically: take the phone away and see if they live. I imagine the actual findings won't be quite as exciting. While studies like this make headlines, do they do any real good for mobile data? They're not showing how people are really using mobile phones to improve their lives -- but just suggesting it's become so critical that people absolutely must have it.

At the same time, a report from Japan is talking about how personalizing mobile phones has become a "crucial" part of an individual's identity. Do people really not have any identity without a personalized mobile phone? It seems unlikely.

What statements like these do is create a promotional-based "urgency" around the idea that you must have a mobile phone or something must be wrong with you. The problem with this sort of language is that it focuses on the faddish element of needing a mobile phone, rather than the practical reasons why someone would want a mobile phone. When this expectation builds up in people that once they get a mobile device, they'd die without it -- they may end up being disappointed to find themselves in a position where they could clearly live an okay life without a phone. Instead, the industry could do much better by focusing on ways in which the phone is actually useful -- if not essential -- in improving the way people live their lives.