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Was the world a better place before ‘smartphones’?

12:00am | & Lifestyle

According to latest figures, 94% of adults in the UK own or use a mobile phone, and that figure doesn’t account for under-18s, where the percentage is probably higher.

The vast majority (85%) of these devices are ‘smartphones’ – mini mobile computers able to do much more than just make a call or send a text – which are once again predicted to be the biggest selling item this Christmas and in the New Year sales.

You’ll often hear people ask: “How did we ever manage without mobile phones?” But the fact is, we did manage, perfectly well. There’s even an argument that the world was a better place without mobile phones. Whether you love them or loathe them, smartphones are everywhere, so let’s take a closer look at some of their pros and cons, starting with the positives:

  • Mobile phones save lives. They truly come into their own in an emergency, allowing people to call for help almost anywhere in the developed world, whether it’s up a mountain or on a deserted country road. When getting medical help quickly can mean the difference between life and death, a mobile phone is a must-have tool.
  • They aid independence. Parents feel happier letting their children out into the big wide world if they know they are just a phone call away. Similarly, older people, who might feel vulnerable through health issues or limited mobility, value the reassurance of knowing they can call a loved one wherever they are.
  • They keep you in touch with the wider world. Smartphones allow people to access the internet on the move, use satnav to avoid getting lost, access social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, or use a multitude of ‘apps’ to help with all manner of everyday tasks, everything from managing your finances to online shopping.
  • Smartphones are a world of entertainment in the palm of your hand. You can store thousands of music tracks to listen to whenever and wherever you like. You can play games to pass the time whenever you’re bored. You can tune into your favourite radio station or even stream TV and movies to the colour screen on your smartphone.
  • Having a phone in your pocket means you also have a camera to capture those spontaneous special moments. Even basic models incorporate cameras, while some smartphones can capture high definition video. It’s not just for ‘happy snaps’ – mobile phone images and footage are regularly used by news media and even as evidence in criminal cases. Millions more of us are photographers thanks to our phones.

So those are just some of the pros, but what about the cons? Here are a few negatives:

  • They cost lives. People using their phones when driving is a growing epidemic. Even though it’s illegal, it is widespread and extremely dangerous. Not just at the wheel, but in other potentially precarious situations people have lost their lives through having their attention diverted by their mobile phones. People have even died trying to take photos of themselves in dangerous places, known as ‘extreme selfies’!
  • Smartphones are highly addictive. Some people are obsessed with their phones, constantly checking them, leaving them switched on at their bedside overnight and thrown into a state of panic if they ever become separated from them. There’s even a recognised medical term for it – “nomophobia” – the fear of having no mobile!
  • They encourage rudeness, arrogance and bad manners. In shops, on trains and buses, restaurants and even in cinemas and theatres you’ll find people on their phones, either holding loud conversations or pushing buttons on their illuminated screens. It displays a selfish lack of consideration for those around them.
  • Mobile phone crime is a huge problem. Smartphones are expensive but easy-to-steal items, leading to millions of thefts and even muggings, bogging down police who have bigger issues to deal with. So called ‘untraceable’ pay-and-go mobiles are used by criminal gangs, while smartphones can also be hacked, causing real security and privacy issues.
  • They are breeding a generation of ‘plugged in people’, disconnected from the real world around them. Try to talk to your children and grandchildren and chances are they will give you a blank look. They haven’t even heard you because they have earphones in; they are glued to their smartphone which connects them to a virtual world of entertainment, music and social media, but isolates them from the real world and genuine human interaction.

These are just a few of the pros and cons and you can no doubt think of many more. On balance though, smartphones are a good thing. Most of the ‘cons’ listed above are due to the misuse or overuse of smartphones. It’s no use blaming smartphones for the negative ways some people use them, and whatever happens… they’re here to stay!

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