Mobile (cell) phones

Have they been overall, an advantage or or a disadvantage to the well-being of humanity?

Hey? How can one even ask! Huge advantage! Ever had a flat tire on a major freeway in a rainstorm? You can call for assistance without getting soaked. Ever see a crime being committed? Ever see a cool garden or fountain? (Cameras!) Ever been late to work because of traffic? Ever just want to phone your sister?

Wonderful invention! Literally life-saving!

Do you include “smartphones” or all portable phones?

I think portable phones have been an advantage overall. It is said that cell phones cause people to neglect letters and face to face conversations, and that this is the most important disadvantage to the well-being of humanity. My parents and grandparents say that before cell phones (roughly the early '90s here), people were already spending lots of time - too much time - on the phone. But if this was happening even before the cell phone, it’s not really a disadvantage of the cell phone as a technology, is it?

There is a real concern that historians in the future would have less to go by as people stop writing letters. But I think other technologies like text messages and particularly the Internet will provide plenty of material for historians. And again, this concern is not really tied to cell phones as much as telephones in general.


Few people now seem to be ‘where they are’, I see couples (before conrona-virus distancing, of course) sitting together & both parties glaring at their phones. Once I could hear the children in my village walking to & from the school bus from some distance by their shouting & laughter, now they seem walk singly in silence, either staring at their phones or with headphones on.
Yes they have been a convenience & have probably saved, but at a high societal price when over-used.

I think you may mean miniaturized, portable computers rather than cellular phones. If modern cell phones could only be used to make phone calls would you have a problem with them?

I love having a tiny computer with me all of the time. It connects me with more people, not fewer. This is admittedly sometimes at the expense of in depth interaction with those nearby.

In that particular example, aren’t you just using your phone to ask another person to get soaked for you? It’s not a net benefit for the well-being of humanity if you’re just transferring the misery from one person to another. :stuck_out_tongue:

I suppose younger generations than I (& there’s quite a few!) can’t imagine the world without them, but I’m genuinely interested why you want to ‘connect’ with more & more remote people in less & less time.

Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker expressed it brilliantly I think; “Smartphones create a dependency without ever actually addressing a need.”

Yeah, but he’s a trained paid professional. He can change the tire better than I can. He gets paid, I get service, the economy grows, benefit for humanity!

Yeah, that’s truly moronic.

Agreed. I guess I don’t 'need" to be able to communicate with my friend in England without spending a fortune, worrying about the time difference or taking two weeks for it to arrive.

I was twenty when I got my first cell phone and thirty when I got my first smartphone. So I can definitely imagine life without them, I lived more than half of my life without cell phones.

I don’t see how they take away anything. They only add. Nothing is stopping you from sitting down and having a conversation in person with whoever will converse with you (except quarantine, that will stop you). Phones just give you the option to have the same conversation while you are greatly separated, too. The phone allows you to get help when your car is stranded by the side of the road at night. It also allows you to turn the damn thing off when you’re through with it, if you ever are.

I’m not seeing the downsides. Would I like to be twenty years old again? Sure. Is it the cellphone’s fault that I’m not? No. Let’s not let nostalgia for the old days blind us to the clear benefits of modern technology. The “greatest generation” would have killed for a device like that in their youth.

I guess that if I am hopelessly lost in an unfamiliar area, I don’t “need” to easily find my way home or to my hotel.

I don’t “need” to send a quick picture to someone to help with troubleshooting rather than spend half an hour describing it back and forth with someone.

I disagree. I think they’re a net positive, but they’re not an unmixed blessing. They can be be addictive and negatively impact people’s mental health; and they can make people more distracted and less present to the world and people around them.
Yesterday I happened to be watching a video of someone watching and reacting to the video of Queen’s performance at Live Aid. The reactor wondered what it would have been like to have been present in the audience, and noted that this was before cell phones, and that an experience like that wouldn’t be possible today because too many people in the audience would have been distracted by their phones.

ISTM it’s a thing people like to grumble about, because we tend to only notice the annoying stuff (person watching movie with sound on, zombie walking into you because (s)he’s not looking where she’s going etc), and not notice all the many improvements it’s made to our lives over time because we take them for granted.

Heck, look at recently with covid: there’s an app on my phone for tracking my status and the status of people around me; when I go to a public place I can show a code on my phone that indicates I have not been near to anyone diagnosed with the virus. Furthermore, the app will warn me if, say, I was in a train carriage with someone later diagnosed with the virus. Just one example of the kind of things we can roll out now that wasn’t possible even with home computers.

Some tours have rules about cell phones, and a couple actually have security zip up your phone in a bag during check in. That’s a debate unto itself. I generally don’t think artists should decide how people consume their art, but if it’s becoming a problem for other patrons it’s reasonable for the venue to impose restrictions. Compare with phone policy in movie theatres - you have to have rules because the noises and lights will actually prevent other patrons from watching the movie. If you watch the movie on home release, or listen to the music off the studio album, then you get to use your phone however you want.


Here’s the thing, you are particularly paying attention to the people on their phones at that one moment. You aren’t really noticing everyone else. And if they’re just on their phones at that one time, does it really matter? My wife and I will sometimes spend the entire day doing things together without looking at our phones. Sitting down, waiting for our food might be the one break where we can decompress and check on things. But older diners are probably looking at us think about those damn millennials who won’t get off their phones.

No sane person would decry the advantageous need for a means of gaining help when your car breaks down at midnight in the rain, but what is the need for children to be so hooked on the damn things? What is the need you have to be continually knowing what other people are doing, where they are & what they are thinking?

Now you’re moving the goalposts. There’s a big difference between the claim that smartphones do (or do not) address a need, vs. the claim that everything that (some) people use smartphones for is (or is not) a need.

Why isn’t, “People enjoy it,” enough of a reason?

Are you kidding me? I wanted a car phone since before I was even old enough to drive. They only had them in movies then. Or I should say, according to movies, some rich people had them.

I wanted a car phone when I was old enough to drive but in reality only had a bicycle.

In the early '80s my husband had a car phone in his work truck, which he was allowed to drive home. I would go out on the street, climb into the truck, and call my friends. “Hey, guess where I’m calling from? THE TRUCK. Ha ha ha!”

So yeah, I got one as soon as I could and happy to have it. I don’t actually see a downside. Essentially waited half my life for it and have enjoyed the hell out of it in the other half. I can’t say it has ever saved my life but it has saved me from a long wait on a fairly deserted highway with my kids in the car and because of it I did not have to rely on the kindness of a stranger but was able to call AAA.

I fail to see any possible way it could be a disadvantage to humanity.