AN OBSESSION WITH SMARTNESS – Jameela Siddiqi

In the early 21st century—perhaps more than at any other time in recent history—greatness appears to be linked to what we own and possess, rather than what we have done for the human race. There was a time when circumnavigating the globe or single-handedly inventing a cure for a deadly disease could guarantee one’s fame and greatness.

 

 

 

Nowadays, even if you managed to do something like that, it’s unlikely that anybody under the age of 40 would know your name. But they’re more than likely to have heard about the dear departed technological genius, Steve Jobs.

 

 

Speaking of whom, take the instance of the guy who recently travelled from the US all the way to Australia to join the crowds camping outside the Apple Store in Sydney just so he could beat his fellow countrymen at being the first proud owner of the latest iPhone. Apparently, owners of such newestversion gadgets would appear to view themselves as pioneers of some sort, imagining that the very fact of their ownership of such coveted devices sets them a class apart from lesser mortals.

 

 

Would anyone have camped overnight outside a store thousands of miles away from home to become the first human being on earth to own the latest iron, vacuum cleaner or oven? Probably not because, far from being updated and upgraded every six months or so, many household gadgets remain firmly fossilised in, or around, the period in which they were first invented.

 

 

Nobody’s ever heard of a “smart iron” (one that recognises every fabric and adjusts itself accordingly before proceeding to glide along, all by itself, to remove every little wrinkle and crease while recording and storing data on each and every garment for future reference), or a “smart vacuum cleaner” (one that emerges out of its storage space the minute it senses there’s some gunk to suck up within the radius of mile and proceeds, of its own accord, straight to the offending space.)

 

 

This is because those who devote themselves to “smartness” in technological innovation cannot be bothered with applying their grey cells to anything that would make mundane domestic chores easier for the person who undertakes the majority of these chores—in most cases, the “grown-up woman” of the house whereas technological innovators usually tend to be men aged under 30, whose priorities are far removed from laundry or household cleaning.

 

 

Owners of the latest smart phones tend to live under the illusion that they are, somehow, smarter than the rest of the world. It used to be a clever joke but now it is a widespread and almost clichéd image—one that can be witnessed anywhere—when a few people meet for a social or a family gathers around the breakfast table and every single person is bent over a device. It could be a laptop or a tablet but, more often than not, it is the mobile phone. And no, they’re not making or receiving an important phone call but they’re either playing a game or checking their Facebook page to see how many “likes” they got for their last post, copied from somebody else’s status who, in turn, copied it from “somewhere on the internet”.

 

 

So much so that there’s now a brand new neck ailment requiring osteopathic treatment and directly linked to bending over a mobile phone for extended periods. (Sufferers are advised to hold their phone up to eye-level instead of bending down over it.)

 

 

Moreover, the now almost acceptable habit of being more with your phone than with the people around you not only exempts you from social interaction but also actively prevents you from getting up and doing something useful around the house. And that’s probably the other reason why inventors and manufacturers cannot be bothered with investing money in research and development for smarter household appliances.

 

 

The idea that your phone “can do anything” leads to the mistaken assumption that you, yourself, can do anything whereas the reverse is often closer to the truth. For instance, I was capable of remembering several vital phone numbers—many including full international dialling codes—until I got a mobile phone. And now, whenever minus my mobile, I’m almost totally stuck for numbers, including =those of my nearest and dearest and, even more shamefully, my own landline. So how smart is that?

 

 

 

author

Jameela Siddiqi is a
lecturer in Indian classical
music and an alumnus
of the London School of
Economics.

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