Wonders and Obsessions
In spite their obliviousness, smart phones are...
well, smart. The added value of their predecessors, the original cell phones,
was mostly their mobility but their skills soon started to grow in many
directions and to invade the territory of laptops, by acting as 'clients' in
Internet, as computers commonly did. Smart phones are now overshadowing, when
not displacing all kind of gadgets as calculators, sound recorders, cameras, GPS
navigation devices, watches and chronometers.
Linked to other electronic tools, smart phones are
getting into everything. For example, there are applications, already in
operation or under development, that collect and manipulate data about physical
and mental conditions for both research studies and health screening. Who would
have dreamed of this! Let's look at two cases.
The Stanford University School of Medicine completed
recently an application for both cardiac health surveillance and the collection
of information to help improve the understanding of the functioning of the
heart. The software, which operates on an Apple platform, uses the motion
sensors of the phone. The program not only records the physical activity of the
owners and the associated risk factors but also generates, believe it or not,
personalized recommendations. The day the initial study was announced ten
thousand people signed up.
On the mental health side, the School of Engineeringat the University of Connecticut is designing a similar application that
correlates variables such as energy level and social interaction to estimate
people’s mood variation. This software will collect data on variables
associated with physical activity and voice tone through the sensors and
microphones in the phones. For example, the built-in GPS provides guidelines to
calculate the frequency with which the user is getting out of her house while
the microphones generate ‘measurements’ of her mood, according to the pitch of
the voice. These and other pieces of information will provide bases to assess
and compare levels of depression.
In the past, the transfer of new technologies to less
developed countries could take up to decades; now the globalization of new
developments happens much faster. Advances with so many potential benefits, as
the two just described, will soon spread all over the planet. The kind of
things that can be done through software applications and modern cell phones is
only going to be limited by imagination.
Not everything is rosy, however. Cartoons that
ridicule the growing dependency and the obsessive behaviors that smart phones
are creating in their users abound in Internet. There is real concern among
scholars of social sciences about the possible harmful consequences of this
trend. Are smart phones diminishing personal contact? Are text messages
replacing verbal communications? Are people becoming more introverted? The
answers to these and many other questions are neither easy nor predictable.
However, for their impressive success, nobody argues
the intelligence of modern cell phones, acknowledging that such gadgets are
totally ignorant of what they are doing. Some of the fans of this wonderful
enchantment walk with caution. A phrase I heard recently sums up the mixture of
admiration and fear around the topic: "Current phones are so exceptionally
smart they are taking control of their owners." And, furthermore, they
could soon be writing prescriptions for them to follow.
Author of ‘Inner Harmony through Mindfulness Meditation’