Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Smart Phones, Cars, and James Madison

On my way to North Park University this morning, I heard an NPR report about the Supreme Court considering two cases to determine if police can search the cellphone of someone who is being arrested.  Nefarious people have incriminating emails, texts, and photos on their cellphones and law enforcement want the ability to search phones without an additional warrant.  The plaintiffs are contending that such phone search are unreasonable searches and hence illegal.  The Court is to determine if such searches are legal or an invasion of privacy.  

James Madison
As interesting as these cases are, this blog is about a the following bit of information from the NPR Story.
"The Library of Congress' entire collection of James Madison's papers is 72,000 pages," Andrew Pincus, a privacy advocate observes, adding, "he couldn't have carried them. They would have weighed 675 pounds." And, says Pincus, today's cellphones carry 100 times that much information.

Indeed, the iPhone 5 in its smallest storage version keeps 800 million words of text, Pincus says. That's enough to fill more than a football field's length of books, or over 8,000 photos, 260,000 private voice mails and hundreds of home videos.
Why James Madison?  I am not sure.

The point is that it is simply amazing what we can carry around on these devices.  I am totally attached to mine.  I am always checking and futzing with it though I highly doubt futzing is word that applies to smartphones.  I can access any of my cloud based documents, photos, and music.  I can shoot and edit unbelievably good photos and videos.  I can then post the same on any number of social media sites.  There are apps that enhance my productivity.  There are also apps and any variety of games that will unenhance my productivity with equal or greater effectiveness.  

From what I have heard and read, young people are even more attached to their smartphones.  In fact, I heard Rebecca Ryan, a futurist, speak late in 2013 about this.  She related that young people would rather have a smartphone than a car.  They equate a smartphone with freedom much in the same way that my generation equated having a set of wheels as freedom.  

At first I found this preference for a phone over a car a bit shocking.  After thinking about it for a bit, it made sense.  If I had a to choose between not having my phone or my car for a day or week, what would choose?  My first impulse would be to choose my car.  After a bit of thought, I would choose my phone. I access it much more during the day than I ever use my car, I could video conference with almost everyone I had to meet face to face with, and so on.  OK, I teach four days a week… I really need my car.  There is no choice.  Thinking about the question made me see the point of view of the teenagers Rebecca spoke about.

It amazes me what young folk will do with their phones.  Whereas I get tunnel vision if I use a smartphone sized screen too long, it does not seem to bother high school and college students.  They access and read textbooks on their phones.  I have seen them read websites that made me worry about their vision if they kept doing that (the modern version of sitting too close to the television).

The Pareto Principle is probably at play here.  Most of us only use 20% of the capabilities of our devices 80% of the time.  We use 20% of our apps, 80% of the time.  Listen to 20% of our music, 80% of the time.  If you are reading this on your phone, you could easily find out what the Pareto Principle is if you did not know.  

I probably would never load James Madison’s papers on my phone.  Why would I?  If I ever felt the need to dive into them, I could just click on

Maybe my phone does indeed give me more freedom than my car.

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