News Feature, Adrienne Chainey

 

“Smartphone” has been a household term since around the time of the Blackberry, which was the first phone to begin utilizing wireless email in 2002. Since then, smartphones have become a cultural icon, representing the modern-age of technology and the rapid rate of innovation by companies such as Apple, Intel, Google and others.

But as smartphones become more and more intelligent and their applications and uses multiply, I’m compelled to ask a question: Have smartphones gotten a little out of control?

With smartphones came the ability to surf the web, send text and multi-media messages, email and record movies.  More recently, mobile games were added to the list of functions enjoyed by smartphone owners across the globe. Walking down the street, you could easily pass by someone flinging a rather peeved bird at some unhappy pigs, or come across a treasure hunter fleeing from some rather creepy looking mutant monkeys after raiding a temple, or perhaps glance over your left shoulder while waiting at the doctor’s office and see someone completing their seventy-third guess correctly on a rather wonky looking drawing of a mermaid.

Now let me pose a question: Do you know which three games I just referred to? I’m guessing that many readers might recognize Angry Birds, Temple Run, and Draw Something as three of the hundreds of rather famous smartphone game apps. Game designers like Omgpop, Zynga and Imangi Studios are all responsible for the creation and distribution of such games. Now I’m going to rack off some more games, and I know for a fact that 98 percent of the people I spend my average day with have at least two of these on their phones: Words with Friends, Fruit Ninja, Tap Tap Revenge, Bejeweled, Siri Assistant, Wolfram, and the list goes on.

Something that I’ve come to notice, at least with the 15-25 year old crowd of smartphone users, is that there are often “fads” or “trends” that occur with these smartphone games. In Richmond, about a year ago, Fruit Ninja was all the rage. I remember Tap Tap Revenge being very big, before slowly tapering off to Fruit Ninja’s prowess. Around five months ago, among iPhone users, Temple Run was the app to use (Android users had to wait until recently in late March to use Temple Run, and after a brief craze, it has again, died off.). After Temple Run came the era of Zynga, and a slew of others have come and gone out of style within the last few months.

Angry Birds, however, seems to be the odd-man out in the sense that people continue to love the game. There’s something about sling-shooting colorful birds into blocks and pigs and TNT boxes that’s so satisfying! And Rovio, the company that designed the game, knows what they’re doing. There’s not just one Angry Birds game, there are many games, that all feature our little perturbed birds flinging to different themes. There’s the classic Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons, Angry Birds Rio and, most recently, Angry Birds Space.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have many of the aforementioned games on my own Smartphone, and I play them way too often. So I should listen to my own advice when I say that there are many more things youth could be doing in their spare time, other than playing games on their phone. This echoes a sentiment has been at the heart of the anti-video game argument for years, an argument that I don’t relish delving into. Yet there’s a certain leeriness I feel when I see a two year-old who can navigate a smartphone but not yet read a book, or when I see seven and eight year-olds playing Draw Something with each other on their brand new iPhone4S, when I remember not being allowed to have an email until I was eleven.

Our youth have become dependent on technology and the ease and instant gratification that it provides, and I fear it is a downward slope that offers no chance of return. I also fear the ease with which everyone, myself included, seems to accept these games as a perfectly viable hobby. The idea that scoring 1,500,000 on Temple Run was an afternoon successfully spent seems to boggle my mind.

While I love the ease and entertainment that smartphone apps allow when in situations like waiting in line or for the bus, I’m equally amazed by the culture that has sprung up in the few short years it has taken smartphones to dominate the cellular world with their LCD screens, HD capabilities, touchscreens, and whatnot. I’m curious to see not just what the next “it” game to play will be, but where the entire smartpone trend (and even generation of people) will lead us.

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