Opinion: Our Life Assistants - Assistant Week


By Nicole Stinson

Photo courtesy of Yutaka Tsutano.

I want you to think about the most important relationship in your life. They know you more than anybody else, you have history together, they know your schedule, and they are always there when you need them. Now think of your life without them, how lonely it would be and how lost and confusing.

No stop. I am not talking about your girlfriend, boyfriend, or significant other, and I am definitely not suggesting your friends and family. I am talking about your smartphone and here is why.

According to Business Insider, there will be 1.4 billion smartphone users by the end of this year with more than 91.4 million coming from America. This number is expected to surge by 66 percent by 2017.

Adding to that, research conducted Wall Street analyst Mary Meeker found that the average person spends more than an hour each day on their smartphone. I don’t know about you but these numbers seem a bit off. Most of my friends spend at least two to three hours on their smartphones and if they are candy crush users, four to five hours.

According to a study by Facebook, 79 percent of people will reach for their smartphone within 15 minutes of waking up, assuming they did not use it as an alarm clock. NBC also reportS that the average person checks their smartphone 150 times a day, roughly every six minutes.

“Today people are so tied to their smart phones to get them through many of their daily activities that it breeds a sense of dependency,” says Stefanie Weiss, a mental health consultant and owner of blog, Ask Stephanie.

“It’s almost as if we don’t need to remember anything as long as we have this smart phone to remember everything for us.”

What breeds this dependency? Well I blame the apps; there is app for basically anything.

Having trouble sleeping? Don’t worry your trusty iPhone is there to help with apps like Power Sleep & Nap and it can even count sheep for you. Then there is the alarm clock apps that help you wake up, no more using the sun to rise, now there is Alarm Clock Plus from Android, which even has a setting that requires you to solve a math problem before you can hit snooze or stop the alarm.

Swackett helps users decide what clothes to wear according to the weather because apparently we can’t look outside and decide for ourselves. Although, I have to admit, at least you won’t get caught in shorts when the weather changes at midday, Swackett will have warned you of that.

With the app 24me, your iPhone even admits it is now your personal life assistant. Modeled on that concept, this app generates your daily schedule, pays your bills on time, and sends gifts to friends for their birthdays with automatic task generation and execution settings.

Then there is my personal favorite: with Assistant Android proves it can do Siri one better. This clever little app not only responds to natural language technology like its iPhone counterpart, but in its latest version as ‘the Assistant’, according to its creators at Speaktoit, the app can understand, remember, and even care about you. The assistant is proactive and multilingual and “always has your best interest in mind.

Once you get over the slightly creepy idea that your smartphone remembers everything you do and even “cares” about you, this is a pretty cool piece of technology. It eliminates human error and is available all the time, assuming your battery doesn’t die. It also shows just how dependent we can become on our smartphones.

Henry Jenkins in his book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide once argued against the idea that technology would one day converge into a simple black box. He was wrong, unless you are a white iPhone user.

The smartphone is now becoming one of the most inclusive technologies with apps available in a range of languages and incorporating a variety of cultures. Recent developments are now including apps and smartphones for people with visual and hearing impairments.

The BBC has reported that a prototype for a braille smartphone was released last month. There are also apps such as Sound AMP R which turns your iPhone into a hearing aid. There’s also subtitles which provides a database of subtitles of films for the hearing impaired.

It’s hard to believe that we ever lived without our beloved smartphones, but just think of how future generations will know nothing else. I have already seen two-year-olds navigate around an iPhone better than they can dress themselves, and maybe there is an app for that too?

When did we become so reliant on this technology? I don’t know but what I do know is that the day I left my phone at home with no chance of retrieval until the next day was the day I felt like my life was ripped away from me. How was I to check my email, call and text people, check Facebook or listen to music on the go?

The reality is that I am not alone on this. For some, their lives are on these phones from meeting schedules, saved documents to photos of loved ones and I am sure we have either experienced or witnessed the I-can’t-find-my-smartphone panic attack.

This little black or white box has become our life assistant. Admit it, when that dreaded little battery-died symbol appears, a little piece of you dies too.