I was so naive. I used to equate artificial intelligence with politicians. I believed that computing devices were, at best, simple automatons. Perhaps I got the definitions switched. Or patently wrong. Today, as I observe people and watch how they interact with their iPhones, I see an unprecedented synergy and I wonder if we are beginning to meld with our new technologies. It's a thought.
Ever since the days of the ENIAC computer, with its thousands of vacuum tubes, we have been taught that any strange or erratic behavior was due to operator error or faulty programmer logic. I'm not so sure. Some of my early interactions with desktop computers made me wonder. Twenty years ago, I would write formal letters and memos to President Berdahl at the University of Texas. He was a very nice and personable man. Still, I would never presume to be casual with our written communications. I was always careful to get the slightly odd spelling of his last name just right. Even so, every time I would type Berdahl in a document, my computer would attempt to substitute his name with either "Bedroll" or "Bordello." A sentient machine? Unlikely, but give it time.
I never felt intellectually inferior to my first iPhone, except when it took me a week to learn how to make and receive calls. With VoiceOver, the iPhone seemed like such a wondrous and supportive partner. I would slip the iPhone into my pocket and take it everywhere. My iPhone could do anything, and I often let it do much of my thinking. Over the years, I have discovered that I cannot do without it. It's become a part of me.
Although I have much greater access to information, the iPhone will not always help me look intelligent. Many times in restaurants, I have been happily tapping away on my iPhone, conserving battery life and protecting my privacy by turning off the backlight with the Screen Curtain option. Just when I feel like the world is at my fingertips, someone will approach me and say, "Sir, I'm not sure if you know this, but your iPhone is turned off." Ugh. I will call this a draw. Neither the onlooker nor my iPhone appear particularly bright.
Our iPhones may seem enlightened because the way we use them can make us appear dim. Look no further than the men's restroom at an airport. I remember the first time that a guy, behind a closed stall door, suddenly and robustly asked how the family was doing. Excuse me? I quickly figured out that I need not reply as he was on the phone with someone else. I certainly would not want to be the one conversing with him at that moment. Unfortunately, that was not an isolated incident. Nowadays, bathroom stalls have become our contemporary telephone booths. This should not become the new norm. Remember, we still have brains.
In my own way, I have also become overly dependent on my iPhone. Ever since the latest political mud wrestling slogged into low gear, the Apple News app has been forcing me to remain in my comfy chair where I spend a considerable number of unhealthy hours perusing the latest antics, attacks and insults. I don't have to think. I don't have to look for related stories. My iPhone knows what I'd like to read. Or perhaps I am reading what my iPhone wants me to read. It may be taking control.
Letting my iPhone think for me may not be such a great idea. Relinquishing power usually costs me money. How can my iPhone impact me financially? Simple. The App Store. Convenient, ubiquitous and very profitable. Unfortunately for the human race, buying cool stuff is addictive. I own a multitude of iOS word processors, yet I only use Voice Dream Reader. I've paid for several sound editors, but I do everything with Ferrite Recording Studio. I love the Nature Space app and have bought more than 125 relaxing sound tracks. How many do I listen to? Just one. And, I have more violin tuners than violins.
I used to be so proud that I knew the value of pi out to 15 significant digits. I should have had higher aspirations. Today, I have memorized all 16 numbers on my debit card, plus the expiration date, and the super secret code on the back. My iPhone talked me into giving those numbers to Apple. And, Apple knows I like to press "Buy" buttons. The technology is smarter than we think.
I am convinced that iPhones are taking over our lives. Resistance is futile. I am constantly drawn to my iPhone, day and night. I do not like putting it down because I would be lonely without it. I check for app updates at least three times a day. I study the latest rumors about iOS 10 and the upcoming iPhones. I live on AppleVis. I am one with the ecosystem. I have joined the Collective. I have been assimilated.
G. Morgan Watkins spent thirty years at the University of Texas at Austin, most of it in information technology leadership. He also enjoyed thirteen years on the Board of Directors at Guide Dogs for the Blind. After retiring from the University , Morgan served as the Guide Dogs for the Blind Acting President and CEO.
Morgan is now happily retired again, playing his violin and writing for pleasure. Morgan has created eleven other blogs for AppleVis, including "Small Talk: Speaking up on VoiceOver and the iPhone," "Lesson Learned: iPhones and Orange Bugs," and "Socially Inept: Trying to make friends with Facebook."