Today we demand and get much more from our mobile devices. Recent estimates suggest there are more than 90 million smartphones being used in the U.S. alone, and nearly 1.1 billion worldwide. Two million smartphones are activated daily around the globe. Tablet computers seem to be jumping off store shelves.
JoLynn and I just talked for an hour with our son and his family in Texas using Facetime. It felt more like a visit than a phone call. I attended a task force meeting this week in which we spoke by Skype with a professor in Ohio. We had a wonderfully interactive conversation. The presentation lacked nothing for being remotely conducted, and we saved him a lot of time and us a lot of money.
Having instant access Google, online dictionaries, and a host of helpful web applications from a smartphone helps users make informed decisions. Having worldwide current news at our fingertips can change lives. Earlier this week we remembered the events of September 11, 2001. While making calls to loved ones, passengers on the Flight 93 learned their hijackers intended to use the jet for an attack. These brave passengers selflessly forced their plane to crash into a field.
As basic phones get discarded, and smartphones and tablets become increasingly ubiquitous, the technology battlefield increasingly focuses on content. Smartphone owners use them an average of 64 hours a month. Netflix's online streaming subscribers watch an average of 30 hours per month. This explosion in capacity and demand for movies, TV programming, music, news, schooling, training, gaming, and all manner of websites has raised many issues. Various apps are facilitating research, communications, personal relationships, school and college attendance, and a myriad of other valuable activities. On the other hand, almost everyone has important data in the Cloud, some of it very personal and private—financial, medical, educational, employment, purchasing patterns, credit, tax returns, criminal history, as well as personal information on Facebook, etc. For good reason we worry about the security of these data, about financial or sexual exploitation, identity theft, and about unknown persons hacking into and stealing the most personal details of our lives.
My own opinion is that the general moral and educational quality of entertainment is not improving. Easy and inexpensive availability of endless content seems to have inured us to lesser quality and poor taste. Internet-aided addiction to video games, gambling, avatar identities, and pornography, along with the consumption of unthinkable violence and the mere wasting of time, take a serious toll on personal integrity, health, productivity at home and work, financial stability, and legitimate relationships, especially marriages and families. Managing the consumption of this plethora of content will challenge all of us as consumers, parents, teachers, and employers. Meanwhile, media makers are working hard to produce and attract us to their productions. Our choices will determine—for good and ill—the landscape of the culture we live in.