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Must there be an app for everything?

Posted: February 11, 2011 - 10:50am

The following editorial first appeared in the Dallas Morning News:

The American breakfast table caricature once pictured a husband, nose in newspaper, mumbling “uh-huh” to spousal questions.

The updated caricature consists of two spouses plus kids, noses in cellphones, thumbs on keyboards, taking turns mumbling “uh-huh” across the table.

No longer in touch with only workplaces or heartthrobs, they are hunched in front of their smart phones as though peering through the sole portal to the world. They are checking news flashes, movie reviews, ESPN, airfares, homework assignments, church bulletins, restaurant menus, store hours and celebrity tweets; they are consulting calorie counters, home remedies, Pete Delkus and the Food Network; they are playing games and the stock market. All are updating Facebook.

They might be missing out on something — each other, perhaps — but it’s hard to know. There’s not an app for that yet.

Interconnectedness — boon and bane. It saves time and costs time. It gets in the way of things and paves the way for things. There’s no excuse for getting stuck in traffic — get an app for that! — and there’s no excuse for missing the boss’ surprise deadline, either.

Now the highly virulent iPhone contagion is spreading apps to millions more through a new model being sold for the first time outside the AT&T realm. Rival Verizon’s iPhone hits stores this week, along with claims about performance similar to how Detroit would brag about its cars.

The publication Macworld writes about the new iPhone model’s “fit and finish” as if it were indeed a car. That’s somehow fitting, because of the places the phone can take people, each app adding horsepower.

Other phone systems may have more market share or have edged ahead of Apple’s iPhone, but none can match the cultish following.

Comic Jon Stewart speaks about fellow iPhoners as a “community” whose members like to “carry around every photo we’ve ever taken and every song we’ve ever listened to.”

Android users could also boast about excesses, performance and pixels, but there’s not the same esprit de corps for a phone system that sounds more like an insect than a companion for your purse or pocket.

Whatever the product, the seductiveness is potentially the same, and some people say there ought to be a law to protect us from ourselves. Really?

Exhibit A is the woman famous for falling into a fountain at a shopping mall while texting (search YouTube “fountain lady”). Research from Ohio State University found an uptick in emergency room visits from texters who fell, tripped or ran into things.

Should there be a law?

How about an app instead? For people who can’t take their eyes off their little i-screens long enough to watch their feet hit the ground, iType2Go superimposes the texter’s typing over a camera’s-eye view of the terrain ahead.

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