Outlook's Third Annual Spring Cleaning List

Let's get rid of smartphones

I am generally a pro-technology, connectivity-loving zealot who understands the countless ways that smartphones can improve our lives. But I see now more than ever the dark side to those backlit screens.

This winter, I watched the events in Cairo's Tahrir Square unfold in real time using Twitter and al-Jazeera Mobile, but I can't tell you the names of all three neighbors on my building's floor.

I used to prepare for traveling. Now, I jump on planes, trains and automobiles with no idea of where I am or where I'm going, trusting my fate to a little blue GPS dot that I assume is not trying to murder me.

Meeting friends now involves volleys of indecisive texts, e-mails and last-minute changes. Our constant modern refrain is: "i'll call/text when i'm close." How did we ever coordinate group gatherings before smartphones? We made a plan and we stuck to it. That technology was called "keeping our word."

Now, when I arrive at a venue, I spend my first few minutes there focused on my phone, checking in on Foursquare. I am so enamored of Foursquare that I was the social networking service's "Mayor of the Year" in 2010, but I wouldn't know if there was an armed robbery in progress right in front of me unless another Foursquare user left that information as a tip.

When we've used the last ounce of oil and the lights go out, we won't know where our friends are, who our neighbors are or how to leave town. We'll simply stare at the dead screens of our smartphones, dumbfounded.

Baratunde Thurston is the digital director of the Onion.

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