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Amanda Gray | Friday, September 9, 2011

I recently joined the hordes of smartphone owners on this campus.

My weapon of choice? The new BlackBerry Torch, with touchscreen and full keyboard.

In related news, I have never been so on top of new email, text and instant messages. For those of you who don’t know, the BlackBerry blinks a little red light whenever you have a message waiting. That little red light becomes impossible to resist, even in class or the dining hall.

Addicted users call it a “CrackBerry,” and I’m slowly noticing the symptoms everywhere — including me. Smartphones are taking over our daily communication and entertainment. We’re slowly growing into a generation that does nothing but check their phones constantly.

Yet, this problem speaks to a much larger and scarier conclusion — what do people give up when they become addicted to handheld technology? Users of all smartphones, not just BlackBerries, always have some attention divided away from the present interaction. The instant the phone flashes, vibrates or dings means they drop what they’re doing to respond. To prove my point: while writing this column I received three text messages and three emails, and all of them were responded to before I continued writing.

Beyond stealing our time, smartphones are making us a lazy society. When is the last time you memorized a phone number? The convenience of the Contacts function means you don’t have to … until your phone dies and you need to call someone. The same laziness applies to meeting someone or going out. What did people do before mass text messages of locations or calling a friend that you lost at the mall? People interacted with other people in more personal ways than we do now.

We also lost all attention span once smartphones hit our hands. With hundreds of thousands of Apps and web surfing capabilities, the smartphone has become the ultimate procrastination and distraction device. If something doesn’t grab and hold our attention from the very nanosecond of our first encounter, we move on to the next thing. No longer are we forced into watching or reading one item, or, God forbid, playing one game. This conclusion frightens me because it means we will eventually turn away from difficult things. We won’t take the time to ask hard questions because we don’t want to expend the effort.

Don’t forget the expense of smartphones. Phones might be discounted or free, but wireless carriers make money on expensive data plans, apps and accessories. As the smartphones are hitting our hands, they are also hitting our wallets.

Even with all of this considered, I won’t give up my BlackBerry. (It is my preciousssssss.) However, I hope these points come back to me when I find myself clicking away mindlessly on the buttons. Perhaps I’ll learn to put down the phone to interact with people face-to-face. Isn’t the first step of recovery admitting you have a problem?