Smartphones need street smarts

You don't have to be smart to use a step counter on a smartphone but you do need to be street smart. (Photograph: PC World.)IN THE old days, people were judged by the company they kept. These days, we’re judged by the cellphones we carry.

Some time ago, my husband asked me to take his new car to the dealership he bought it from for its first service. As I was leaving the premises, the salesman who flogged the vehicle to him trotted over.

“How you guys are enjoying the car?” he asked.

I nodded, “It’s fabulous. Of course, I don’t drive it often, given that it’s his lordship’s pride and joy.”

“Yes,” responded the friendly young man. “He knows his machines. Apparently he has a superbike too? But when I first met him, I didn’t think that he was in the market for something like an RS4.”

“Really?” I asked defensively, picturing my husband ambling around the glistening glass, tile and chrome showroom in his classic engineering attire, which comprises faded jeans, a golf shirt branded with a rigging, safety or motorbike company logo, and clogs (he’s Dutch). “And why’s that?”

“Well, when I saw the old Nokia phone he carries, I didn’t think he would be the kind of person to go for a car like that,” he mumbled, clearly regretting he’d mentioned his observation. “It’s like, um, you know, most of our customers carry iPhones or BlackBerries or some other kind of smartphone.”

He was right. My husband does carry one of the oldest, most basic handsets around. He was probably one of the last people in Cape Town to eventually (grudgingly) concede to carry a cellphone when I thrust one of my old ones into his hands and insisted it would be useful in the “please buy milk” sense. And, while he’s turned on by machines that go fast and technology that makes them go faster, he’s unmoved by telephones that do more than make calls and send text messages.

He doesn’t, he insists, need a handheld computer because he has a perfectly good system in the office and a laptop for when he travels. He has a Garmin to get him places and a camera to take photographs. He has an iPod, and buys the newspaper and books to read. He’s not much into Twitter and his Facebook page is a shame. For sure, he’s not in the market for a smartphone.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I was standing at a traffic light waiting to cross a busy street in the centre of Cape Town the other day when a young woman, staring at her cellphone, stepped into the road directly in front of a moving car. I reached out and yanked her back on to the pavement as the car screeched to a halt millimetres from her thigh.

“My goodness, thank you!” gasped the startled woman, as we stepped back and resumed breathing. “I have a new app on my phone that counts my steps. I’m trying to lose weight. I need to do 10 000 steps a day.”

As I watched her stride off, head down and eyes on her phone, I accepted that it’s inevitable we judge people by the phones they carry.

I also saw that a smartphone is only as smart as the person who operates it.

(This article was originally published as my technology column on the Business Life page of Business Day.)

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About Administrator

Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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