Every year, Germany chooses an official 'Youth Word', the culmination of the annual Youth Word of the Year contest organised by Langenscheidt. Last year, the word they chose was "smombie"; the "smartphone zombie". This word is now apparently beginning to gain relevance here in the UK too.
This cliché is pretty tired now -- people veering blindly along pavements, their eyes glued to their phones, absent-mindedly sending little old ladies flying and generally leaving a trail of destruction in their wake – and I just don't buy it.
The Sunday Times have reported on the rise of the “smombie” this week, in a feature emphasising how dangerous walking and texting actually can be (some people have been hit by cars, and cyclists have been interviewed claiming that they have to swerve out of the way of “smombies” twice or three times a day).
The image of the young "smombie" on their smartphone feels like a rather lazy way of demonising not only a technology but also a generation.
When the term was coined in Germany last year (allegedly by teens), it was met with considerable protest from some quarters. It was suggested that, rather than being a word used by young people, it was more a word used about them, and this chimes with my misgivings about the whole concept.
Consider the upcoming generation - a generation where babies instinctively reach out and touch screens, and anyone who doesn't have some sort of device by the time they reach primary school risks being abandoned as a social pariah. Growing up with social media and mobile technology as part of their established environment, these kids stand a much better chance of having a healthy relationship with tech than we do.
For millennials and baby boomers, struggling to reconcile jobs from an analogue age with the new obligation to be constantly online, we come a cropper far too often. But for them, technology will complement and enhance their lives, rather than invade it; they will use technology rather than being governed by it.
Having to manage social and mobile technology from such an early age, this generation are surely going to enjoy a much healthier relationship with technology in general than the generation that had to weather the arrival of the Blackberry, with the pocket inbox, the implicit obligation to be constantly online - for them, technology will complement and enrich their life, rather than invade it; they use technology rather than being governed by it.
A main feature of the hotly anticipated Apple Watch was the fact that it would be able to present notifications to users at a glance, closer in physical proximity even than the phone in the user’s pocket. It seems absurd to want to cut down on the few seconds it takes to pull your phone out – but it’s actually very astute. People nowadays need to be kept up-to-date with their notifications while at the same time feeling the interruption to their lives is minimal.
It’s easy to label the younger generation a detached, socially stunted crop of people, and this lazy rhetoric about "smombies" (a horrible word - try saying it out loud) feeds into that monotonous drone.
I say the opposite. Just as the technology that is an integral part of our daily lives continues to evolve and adapt to our needs and behaviours, we too continue to adapt and evolve with it.
And if there are a few stragglers left behind, stepping in front of cars as they reach for their all-important iPhones? Well, natural selection will inevitably, ultimately, prevail.
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