Smartphones or dumb nodes

It has been a very revealing week of discussion on mobile phones, and while I understand the reasons not to limit to the discussion to the latest technology, the smartphone (or if numerous wireless providers are taken seriously,the superphone), there is still one distinction I would like to explore in this post.  A smartphone is a mobile device that does it all, has unlimited access to the Internet – if you happen to be in a favourable location – and expensive data plans aside, the entire world-wide web now fits in a pocket.  People with smartphones should therefore be, you know, smarter than the average cell phone user, and lightyears ahead of those who can still remember owning a rotary phone.  Yet an argument has been raised that this smartening up of consumers still hasn’t happened, and while the smartphones are designed to do more things, less is actually done with them.

At the start of this course, I was working through what seemed like an applicable book for this course: Media and New Capitalism in the Digital Age: The Spirit of Networks (Fisher, 2010).  While there is much to learn about Dr. Eran Fisher’s analysis of networks and their influence on capitalism, he often mentions “dumb nodes” as a key feature for effective networks.  Like individual neurons performing limited tasks in our brains, Fisher argues that in the New Capitalist system, people work better with a small set of tasks, and it is the network that make the system smart, and hopefully the designers rich.  With smartphones, people have the potential to do many great things, but instead focus on several tasks, learning in bits rather than a complete knowledge of everything.  Reminds me of Huxley’s description of Alpha-run Cyprus in Brave New World: not everyone who owns a smartphone can be a World Controller.

Fisher, E. (2010).  Media and new capitalism in the digital age: The spirit of networks.  Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Posted in: Week 11: Mobiles