Digital Culture

Smartphones: The New Manuscripts

by Michele Bishop

‘Choose live blogging from your first wank to your last breath, human interaction reduced to nothing more than data’

Trainspotting 2

Books have been part of our existence for thousands of years. In the Middle Ages books and manuscripts were one of the main  source of “material” knowledge. Through books, a small number of people learned their history, how society works, how to flirt… almost everything. However, because of the low supply they also cost a lot. Until the 1440s, the production of one single book was extremely time consuming.

We still have books, but, they cost a fraction of the price and they’re still valuable from an informational stand point. If a century ago most people used books to learn and explore, now technology and smartphones seem to have taken their place. Consider the latest smartphones. Some of them are extremely expensive (iPhone XS Max at 1499$) as books were 500 years ago. From an information standpoint you can access online dictionaries, free encyclopedias, ebooks and more with just the touch of a finger. Everything that you might want to know is condensed into 150g of “smart” technology.

Today smartphones occupy a more substantial place in our lives than books. Without them we wouldn’t be able to acquire the daily dose of instant pleasure that we so desperately need. Fifty years ago if someone couldn’t remember a quote like: ‘Smartphones are…’, they had to wait to get home, find the book, find the page and there it was ‘…the opium of the people’. Now we just google our way through everything that the human brain can’t be bothered to remember. There are hypothesis about how the constant exposure to magnetic waves (coming from smartphones) may affect our long term memory, but, Professor Martin Röösli explained in an interview that it is not yet clear how they could potentially affect brain processes.

A book’s content can be reduced into a file that any digital device may access. Smartphones have been designed to be addictive. Anything you might need is just a swipe away. Smartphones can give you more than a book ever will. It’s as easy to arrange an appointment with your Tinder date as it is to fall down Taft Point while taking a selfie. It’s safe to say that smartphones, compared to books, have literally taken our lives a step too far.

The beauty of going through the pages of a secondhand book, which already has a story of its own, and reading the ink on the slightly yellowish paper in a twenty square foot bookshop where piles of texts and manuscripts reach the ceiling is something that people are forgetting, or even worse, will never experience. Today, we consciously shut off from the world and physically isolate ourselves from other people to dedicate our attention to frivolous things and live in a different reality, where updating our profile is more important than reading and learning from a book.

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