It’s becoming fashionable online to make fun of people who suggest that smartphones aren’t a good thing. And because the discussion happens online, people who have the audacity to suggest that smartphones aren’t 100% awesome all day long are mocked with cartoonish disdain. “Durr, phones are bad!” phone supporters slur aggressively, smiling their self-satisfied smiles and patting each other on the back for their cleverness, convincing no one. See? I’m doing it right now, to them. This is what the internet has made of us.
Fortunately it’s a really simple argument. A smartphone is a device which runs software designed to be addictive. This just in: being addicted to things is bad. Making things which get people addicted is bad. Anytime any entity has been in charge of something addictive, it’s turned out badly for someone.
It’s a bold take, I know, but maybe we should actually consider the possibility that the world as it exists today is not the way it should be. It’s starting to seem like the criticism leveled at phone critics is going to look a lot like a smoking supporter in the 1950s gesturing at someone suggesting cigarettes might cause some health problems and saying “Can you believe this guy, suggesting that smoking isn’t good for you? What a maroon! I smoke all the time and I’m 200% happier.”
Ethics in software is a field which has yet to evolve. But I’m willing to bet that when it does finally lurch into motion, we’ll be horrified at some of the things we let happen in the last decade.