Put the Stupid Smart Phone Down Already

When my co-founder, Randy Davis, approached me in June of 2014 about resurrecting an idea that we had tossed around the previous year, I was skeptical. Building an app is no small task. But after talking it through – technology trends, our community, our faith and life in general – it became clear that not only were we on to something, but there was no doubt in our minds that it could be a game-changer.

Randy’s epiphany occurred after an armed gunman opened fire at our local courthouse one summer morning. Even though Randy had been on social media many times throughout the day, he didn’t find out about the event until almost evening time. He’d seen many photos of his friend’s visit to the Grand Canyon during the day, but he didn’t see what was going on just a few miles down the road from where he lived. He wondered if there was a better way to share information within a community.

This made sense to me. It was really cool to see his passion connect with his vision. We both knew we were on to solving a big problem in social media information sharing. However, I saw that we had potential to solve an entirely different problem.

This realization came from a series of events that were just your garden variety life moments: A night out having dinner with the kids, a Halloween party in the neighborhood, and a YouTube video.

Dinner Out, Technology In

One night I was out to dinner with my family. For no particular reason I became very aware of my surroundings and noticed there wasn’t much conversation happening in what was a very busy restaurant. I saw family after family sitting together but each were lost in their phones and tablets. Young kids were watching movies, adolescents were texting incessantly and their parents were distracted by social media and email. I started to wonder, is this really what technology has done to us? Put us into isolated silos in which we share physical space together but not life itself?

Then I began to wonder why I’m on Facebook. Was it just because I had the need to feel connected, or was it because many years ago everyone signed up for it and I just followed along? And why I was still coming back? Was I really getting anything out of this illusion of a world behind this tiny screen? For some reason, I kept logging in, but no, I wasn’t getting much out of it at all.

Facebook, I realized, had created the illusion that I was engaging in real social interactions. Suddenly my ‘friends’ vacation pictures and selfies became not only boring, but very annoying. The more I dug the more I saw these “friends” working very hard to paint their lives as more meaningful than what they actually were – and they probably had no idea why they were acting this way.

Happy Halloween! See You Next Year

A few weeks later, Halloween was upon us and so commenced our yearly tradition of my neighbor, Scott, and I hosting a party between our houses for the tricker-treaters and their parents. It was a fun event that we all looked forward to. As the night rolled on, Scott and I talked about how many people came by the house with their kids. Every year we have great conversations with these folks, but as the night rolled on, we realized that we will most likely not see or hear from them again until the next Halloween party.

Why was it that we had the ability to keep tabs on our friends in other states, but we had no real connections to those who are in some cases only a few doors down?

Smart Phones Make Dumb People

The next week I compulsively wandered onto Facebook (habit) and saw a video about someone losing an opportunity in the real world because they were stuck living in a false digital world, head down and oblivious to who and what was around him. As I watched this video over and over (Facebook is good for some things), I knew that this was the most impactful message I had seen in a long time. The words from the video still ring in my head to this day: “We are a world full of smart phones and dumb people.”

No, I don’t think we are world full of idiots, but I do think we have all become victims of addictive technology, that we live behind keyboards and emojis instead of our real voices and real smiles.

It had tied together two things that were very troubling to me: How far we had gone to use technology to replace real social interactions and how society today lacks real social connections with those who live nearby. Over the past several years, I thought about how many times I had wanted to get involved in our community only to learn about an opportunity nearby after it had already taken place. Why was I finding out about things after it was too late to act on them?

Using Technology to Connect People to the Real World

NearbyNewz was just an idea to change they way information was shared, but the potential for this app gave me hope that we could use technology to connect people to the real world by sharing information that reflects the real world AND is absolutely relevant to where users are at any given moment. It’s ironic, no? Using technology to engage people in the real world? It’s my hope and vision, though, and I won’t give up on it.

For me, NearbyNewz is a way to fight back, to let technology work to connect us instead of separating us. We are overloaded daily by email, push notifications, alerts, and texts. How much of this information you’re receiving truly impacts your life and shapes your daily decisions?

What if there was an information exchange platform where you could customize your feed to alert you to things that are important to you AND were sent from those who are around you right now?

That’s what we’re accomplishing with NearbyNewz. Opportunities to participate in life now become endless. Being plugged-in has new meaning. Information from your peers is untainted and comes to you as it happens in real time. You will become more aware about what’s going on around you right now and have information you can use to make better decisions in daily life.

I suspect that the more we know about what’s going on around us, the more likely we’ll put down the stupid smart phone and engage in real life.

— Todd Moran, NearbyNewz

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