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PUBLISHED: 15:40 09 January 2018

Liam Heitman-Rice is not a fan of smartphones. (Image: Press Association)

Liam Heitman-Rice is not a fan of smartphones. (Image: Press Association)


I believe the pen is mightier than the smartphone. If I have an idea for a story or an article, if I am simmering an essay plan, I will always reach for a pen and paper over the Notepad app on my phone.

Liam Heitman-Rice believes the pen is mightier than the smartphone (Image: Liam Heitman-RiceLiam Heitman-Rice believes the pen is mightier than the smartphone (Image: Liam Heitman-Rice

I dislike smartphones. I dislike that I feel as though I need one. I receive my work rota on the Deputy app, I communicate with my workmates on WhatsApp; I use a smartphone to receive my university timetable, my emails, my bank statements. With frightening ease, one is rendered off the grid without internet access. More discerning still, smartphones are no longer just phones: they are a social aids. There is a peculiar stigma directed to the person who, waiting at an empty table for their friends, does not have a device in their hands to validate their loneliness.

Matthew Zamudio, 23, former Creative Writing student of the University Of California, San Diego, believes “instant messaging strips away all the pleasures of person-to-person interaction. It can be compared to the telegram, which provided just enough space to convey where and when to meet, and perhaps a signature. But in its time the telegram was never considered a replacement for face-to-face contact or verbal communication, like instant messaging is today.”

In a society that heralds the smartphone as ubiquitous, the premium held on spoken word is dissolving. “Pitch, tone, emotion, health, ethnicity, culture … all of these personality-revealing aspects lay hidden in the many idiosyncrasies of one’s voice. This, paired with the fact that nearly everyone owns a cell phone,” Matthew laments, “makes obvious the unrealized and beautiful networks of relationships we could be forging but aren’t. And if time is your excuse, it’s an extraordinarily bad one: instant messaging is anything but instant.”

Ultimately, Matthew asserts speech as superior to any other form of modern communication: “Whether your interlocutor makes you laugh, cry, or empathize with the subject of a carefully-delivered story, you will feel something when you hear another human voice. There isn’t any better reason to choose talking over texting than that.”

The value of verbal speech is not only emotional but transactional, a process of acquiring information which lies at the heart of relationships both personal and professional. Having been a salesman for over thirty-five years, my father Lloyd Rice, 53, maintains that “effective communication starts from the very first moment you meet someone. The way they carry themselves, the tone of voice, the choice of words: all start to give you an understanding of how you may be able to help this person.”

The importance of establishing customer rapport relies on “asking the right questions with the right tonality and body language, to uncover their real needs as opposed to what they think they want.”

The depths of language are informed by so many physical aspects, which are overshadowed by what Lloyd perceives as “a need to constantly check social media or look at the latest YouTube upload.” Such digital distractions foster a tendency to “send a text message to the person standing next to you, rather than communicate using the spoken word, which has the added benefits of tonality, pitch, volume and body language. Whereas the written word of a text message is misconstrued, particularly if you don’t reply quickly enough.”

Speed is the order of the day, as human interactions are being shortened for the sake of convenience. The promise held by the internet of making the world smaller has in this decade become dreadfully realised. This minimisation has come at a cost. The dialogue of our culture is informed by soundbites strewn across Twitter feeds, as big-picture stories are reduced to the postage stamp of an iPhone screen. As such, language is becoming contracted: we rely on emojis to respond for us, we substitute wit with GIFs, we diminish our vocabulary with the use of acronyms.

Wary of a culture that has become in-sync but out of touch, Thomas Michael, 19, a Politics student at the University Of Melbourne, surmises “we’re terrified of being alone. The fact that we have everyone we know in our pocket all the time means that people don’t know how to deal with solitude. The use of SMS, Messenger and Snapchat means that our communication is lighter in content, but far more constant. The result is we have a whole generation of people that has grown up terrified of spending just a few minutes on their own.”

I concede, smartphones have their uses. But they are distracting, addictive, and ubiquitous. And they will never substitute a pen and paper.

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