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The Smartphone: a Curse or a Blessing?

An overview of the impact of smartphones throughout the year for people with a visual impairment.
Man holding a smartphone with both hands, you can only see the hands and the smartphone

#blog by Ylona Keurn #with Niek de Jong

It's almost impossible to imagine your life without it. That little piece of technology can be found in the pocket of many individuals. If you hadn't figured it out yet, I am talking about your smartphone. In this blog, I would like to review my smartphone usage. Is it all great or are there also disadvantages?

In my previous blog, I mentioned that the cell phone only made its appearance in the late 19th century. In the beginning, this luxury was only affordable for the rich among us. In addition, the first cell phone at the time, like the landline, only had a calling function. This meant that the common man often did not find it worthwhile to set aside extra money for it. After all, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, or first cell phone on the market for consumers, cost almost 6500 euros and weighed over a kilo!

Image of a while Motorola-Dynatac-8000x \

Over the years

Cell phones continued to be developed, and more and more features were added. For example, at some point, the short message service, better known as SMS, came into existence. This is a feature that I still use a lot, as it's handy when you want to quickly let someone know that you got home safely or that you're just on your way to see someone. Although the vast majority of people today have a cell phone plan, it was completely different not so long ago. Calls and texts were expensive and paid for from a prepaid card. Did I run out of credit? Then I had to go back to work to pay for new ones.

As time went on, technology didn't stand still either. In the beginning, you had a cell phone the size of a tablet, later they became smaller and smaller so that your phone would just fit in your bag or pocket. Nowadays the size is getting bigger again. I personally like it so I don't have to put too much effort into looking at my phone. But there are plenty of people who prefer a smaller size because today's phones are harder to carry around. The problem I see for myself is that I would put it somewhere and then no longer know where.

Image showing different phones over the years, starting with the Motorola through to the Samsung Galaxy. It can be seen that phones first get smaller and then larger.

The cell phone became more and more a part of daily life with me. This was because of all the possibilities it offered. Moreover, the manufacturers also ensured that the charging time was much quicker, with longer battery life. This made me take my phone with me more and more often and really start using it. Now I often go a day without a charger and take it with me everywhere I go. Of course, it depends on what you do with your phone. I can tell you that I have days when my phone just makes it to noon. There is so much you can do with a cell phone. Where before we could only call and text, now we can; play games, surf the internet, calculate things, look at advertising leaflets, arrange money matters, order packages, and much, much more. All of that is very important in this day and age, and if you ask me, I certainly wouldn't want it to change. It gives me a certain kind of independence. That's why it's essential that all these functions are accessible to everyone!

Curse?

But are there really no drawbacks to everything going digital? At first, I would say not, because my life has become a lot easier since the smartphone. I get much more of the world now because I can read the news or search for information I need at that moment on my phone. In addition, it doesn't matter where I am; my phone is with me everywhere. This used to be different. Back in the day, I had to wait until I had the opportunity to look for the information, and that sometimes caused annoying situations. Yet I also experience disadvantages when using a smartphone. I notice that there are people who can no longer make normal contact because they only have eyes for their phone. I find that very annoying and in some cases really rude. They give the other person the feeling that they do not matter. In the first place, the telephone was developed for calling and texting. In other words, to get in touch with people. So let's not forget that important part!

Furthermore, the cost of a smartphone has become a disadvantage. There are plenty of people who cannot afford one, and because they would like to, they put themselves in debt in order to participate. This is also a part of accessibility for everyone. In addition, the privacy of people and their data leaves much to be desired. You need to be well aware of what you are and are not giving access to, and it can have unpleasant consequences if you have not arranged this correctly. Often these functions are hidden or mentioned in the small print, which can make it even more difficult. Finally, you can always be reached, or are expected to be reached at all times. For me personally, this is not so bad, but there are people who find it very annoying to be disturbed at any time of day.

Blessing? Yes, a blessing!

But, enough with the negativity about the smartphone. As a matter of fact, I enjoy it very much. For example, the smartphone gives me the opportunity to have more social contacts. Especially in this day and age, but also before that, it can be difficult to stay in touch with everyone. Especially when these people live a bit further away. Traveling is not always easy and is, therefore, a major obstacle. Now, of course, you still meet up sometimes, but you can also just WhatsApp and call. I believe that this can reduce feelings of loneliness for many people. The same goes a bit for Facebook, where I am often on my phone. Here you see messages from people you normally wouldn't meet up with often. Still, it's nice to see them pass by and be informed. You can also post comments under messages, which sometimes leads to fun conversations with people you haven't spoken to in a long time. For me, having more contact in an accessible way is one of the great benefits of a smartphone. In addition, the phone has many useful features that I definitely apply. Think about making grocery lists and calculating things. Just find a calculator you can do well with when you see less! These are available but must be purchased separately.

Three people looking at a smartphone together and laughing. Everyone is wearing clothes with pink shades and the phone is also pink. It looks like these youthful people are having a lot of fun.

It used to be that you had to buy special software to be able to navigate on your phone as a blind person. With the arrival of the iPhone, this obstacle has been removed. The iPhone has its own speech software built-in for people with less vision. When I heard about this possibility I had to try it out immediately, so I ordered the cheapest iPhone I could find. An exciting undertaking because the cost was quite significant and I did not know if it was really as good as it was claimed to be. It certainly took some getting used to at first and I could only understand VoiceOver at a slow pace, but as time went on I became familiar with it. Now I have the speech software on so fast that others ask me how I can follow it. You learn this when you start using it and it is recommended for everyone.

I didn't think any of this was possible and even though buying a smartphone is pricey, I should have done it much sooner. I can see how much it has expanded my world. At first, I was a little apprehensive about it, but practice makes it familiar and makes your phone your best friend. The smartphone is a blessing!


Monday, 24 May 2021