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15 things you can do (better) with a smartphone

Posted on: March 12, 2015

Greenbot led with an article about the fifteen things we seem to have forgotten to do because we now have smartphones.

How about fifteen things we can do or do better? I contrast their cannots with the cans in my own series on how they affect teaching or learning.
1. Cannot make phone calls. Can communicate in many other ways.

Successful N800 video call by rnair, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  rnair 

When is a phone no longer a phone? When it is too smart to be just a phone. It is a messenger, updater, tweeter, emailer, orderer, reminder-er, etc. Messages may be shorter, but they can be so much more efficient and no less meaningful.

And when you need to hear someone’s voice, you still can. Better still, you can see their faces too.

Instead of insisting there is just one way to communicate, teachers should take the smartphone cue and learn the other ways their learners have already adopted.
2. Cannot remember phone numbers. Prioritize your brain for better things.

Memorization might be one basis for learning, but it is not the only way.

Memorization is a case for just-in-case learning of stable information. We used to remember phone numbers in case we needed them for use later. Dumbed down memorization, rote, is one extreme path that many still take thinking that it leads to academic success.

Memorization does not prepare you for just-in-time and situational learning of volatile information. A smartphone, wearable device, or something similar can be used to collect, record, or process data, or provide performance support. The devices help us deal with more important things instead of fussing over trivial ones.

Educators might refer to important things such as higher order thinking skills (HOTS). Memorization has not gone away; it has simply been outsourced to the phone.
3. Cannot read a map. You can interact with one.

Toward Lonsdale Street satellite view - by avlxyz, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  avlxyz 

Maps attempt to put a three-dimensional space (actual world) into a two-dimensional one (flat world). Both paper and electronic maps suffer from this and place an unnecessary cognitive load on the user.

However, tools like Google Maps offer street views which are attempts to recreate the real world as seen by human eyes. Smartphone maps allow users to overlay useful information like traffic, restaurants, points of interest, etc. Tapping on these overlays might reveal more information in the form of user-provided photos or reviews.

Traditional maps are important to the cartographer. Smartphone maps are important to you.

Old maps, like schooling, are one-size-fits-all. Electronic maps, like education, serve the individual.
4. Cannot balance a checkbook (cheque book). You can learn to be financially literate.

The article is US-centric, hence the spelling and the antiquated reference. I have a cheque book that is about a decade old and looks as good as new.

Balancing your finances is as much a mindset as it is a skill. Neither bundled pieces of paper nor apps alone are going to make you fiscally responsible. That said, smartphones with the right apps allow users to keep track of finances, set up expenditure alerts, and manage funds quickly and safely. Paired with financial literacy programmes, these apps are powerful ways to teach self-management.
5 & 6. No need to write in cursive/Write legibly. You can write in other ways.

The premise is wrong. How many people actually wrote legibly in the days before the smartphone?

Schools, for the large part, still insist kids learn how to use pens and pencils over typing, so the writing persists.

I say this as one who was schooled with fountain pens and enjoyed the art of manuscript writing. If there is a need for writing, it might only to be to pen one’s signature. But advancements in biometrics should remove that some day.

When kids leave the schooling system (or when they step out of it each school day), they enter worlds where they can type, audio record, video record, draw, animate, and so on. These are so much more complex and richer than just writing.
7. No need to take good pictures because of Instagram filters. You can do and learn much more.

Video recording by Onefound, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Onefound 

With smartphone photos, you can backup, tag, edit, share, comment, and tell a compelling story. You can get feedback, and if you heed it, then take better photos. You can do all these in a fraction of the time it took with film.

Doing all these requires an open and sharing mindset. There is nothing like doing to ingrain this system.

But I draw the line with obsessive selfie-taking if it becomes less about sharing and more about narcissism.
8. Cannot set an alarm clock. Yes, you can… and more.

You can still set not just one, but multiple alarms on your smartphone. You can let the the smartphone set the right time, keep track of time zones, or serve as a stopwatch, countdown/up timer.

Integrated into apps, smartphone clocks remind us to look up from our screens, stand up from our work desks, and cue any event in life. Paired with behavior modification, these can nurture better life habits.
9. Cannot do basic arithmetic. Why would you want to?
See point 2.
10. Cannot wait in line. Wait, you mean we can better wait in line.

Texting Congress 3 by afagen, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  afagen 

We can while our time away by reading, gaming, chatting, listening to music, watching videos, working, ad nauseum. These do not replace full blown instances of entertainment or education, but they make use of what I like to call interstitial learning time [1] [2].
11. Cannot just use the toilet. You can do more business than you expect.

41/52 - Some Alone Time by KJGarbutt, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  KJGarbutt 

Seated relatively comfortably, you can extend your interstitial time (see point 10).
12. Cannot just read a book. You can read several.

You can carry hundreds of books in a device no heavier than just one book. You can have a book read to you. You can interact with media elements, learn to read non-linearly, and develop literacies beyond just text.
13. Cannot just turn on lights. You can have greater control.

You can monitor your home and access your computer remotely. You can schedule electricals to be switched on or off on schedule. You can be there without being there.

You can also be there without being there with online resources, mobile-friendly MOOCs, and video conferencing.
14. Cannot be productive. Yes, you can.

media stacking by Will Lion, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Will Lion 

The device that many like to call distracting is simultaneously an enabler. You can install apps that are time and/or location aware to limit use when not appropriate.

Distractions are not problems. They are opportunities to develop discipline and self-management.
15. Cannot stand up straight.

It is hard to argue against this one. Fear-mongerers like to mention problems with eyesight, ignoring people in social situations, and other ills. How about the danger of not looking where you are going or driving?
So where does this leave us?

The original article suggested fifteen things we no longer seem to be able to do thanks to the adoption of smartphones. Perhaps some of these things we should no longer be doing because they are no longer relevant or because they hold us back.

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