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Sunday, October 2, 2022

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We have a question for you. How much time would you say your smartphone takes from you?

Ten percent of your day? Fifty? Eighty?

Those hand-held computers you put in your pocket or purse have become such a norm in our personal and business lives, it probably does not occur to you how much you use it.

A Gallup poll published in July 2015 indicated half of smartphone owners in the U.S. check their phones several times an hour or more. That statistic included 11 percent who admitted to glancing for notifications every few minutes. An annual internet trend poll conducted by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in 2013 reported users check their phones 150 times per day.

Whether you realize it or not, you likely look at your phone 150 times per day.

The staff of Evansville Business conducted a poll of our own on social media. We asked followers to think about their smartphone usage and share their thoughts. Of the 77 responses, about 50 percent admitted to doing business on smartphones anytime, anywhere, indicating the practice is slowly becoming a part of the business standard.

From answering a call or shooting a text to a client to uploading pictures to Facebook or even just checking the time, we arguably have come to rely on smartphones more than any other technology in the last 30 years.

Back to the Future

The first smartphone created was the IBM Simon Personal Communicator, which debuted in 1992 for $899 on the now outdated two-year contract agreements. If you didn’t want to sign your name on the dotted line, you needed only produce $1,099 for a Simon.

This early version had a basic touchscreen and the capability to send and receive emails and faxes. Nokia would come next with the 9000 Communicator. It did not boast a touchscreen, but allowed users to browse the web and use word processing and spreadsheet programs.

These phones would dominate a small niche market but remain fairly unknown to the mass of consumers. In the early 2000s, BlackBerry launched the era of phones catered to business professionals with large keyboards and email capabilities.

Smartphones as we know them today hit the market in 2007, when Apple debuted its first iPhone and the company’s chief executive Steve Jobs called it “a revolutionary and magical product.” From there, the device’s meteoric rise in the technology world could not be stopped.

By 2008, Apple announced 4.7 million cellphone users owned iPhones. Its biggest competitor, Android, hit the market in November 2008 with the G1. Today, the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy are the most popular smartphones on the market. They offer unlimited options for both business and personal use; games, social media, photography, and programs to help run your business are just a few of the “apps” taking up memory on our phones. It’s no wonder many of us turn to our devices for just about everything.

Many questions arise from this usage: is society losing its ability to have face-to-face interactions? Has the line between our business and personal lives blurred? Is hyper-connectivity killing our relationships with one another?

There are pros and cons of this shift in technology — and our society — depending on whom you ask. Students, company owners, small-business employees — we all use smartphones in one way or another. Just how much have they affected the way we do business and, possibly most importantly, the way we interact with each other?

Incoming Call, one new message

▲ College sophomores and Signature School graduates Cooper Pratt and Abbie Gipson read messages, check bus schedules, and take plenty of selfies. This next generation of professionals will never conduct business in a world without smartphones.

Janice Miller sweeps into a small conference room, smartphone to her ear, her head nodding as she listens to the caller on the line. They exchange a few words and after they end their conversation, Miller’s phone dings with a few text notifications. As she wraps up answering the messages, she looks up and smiles as she lets out a deep breath.

“I absolutely do everything with my phone,” she explains, smartphone still in hand.

A real estate agent and owner of ERA First Advantage Realty in Newburgh, Indiana, Miller has used cellphones since 1985. Today, her iPhone 6 Plus holds everything essential to her professional and personal lives. Eighty percent of her day is spent on the device.

“The smartphones have made business so much easier,” says Miller, “but you really don’t get away from it. You just don’t get away unless you turn it off. And I rarely turn it off.”

But Miller doesn’t see anything wrong with that.

“Most customers are very polite; they value my time,” she says. “I work with great people.”

Jackson Kelly PLLC attorney Joshua Claybourn agrees it’s harder now than ever to discern the line between work time and personal time.

“Clients know they can get ahold of you quickly, and so they do, whether by email, text, or calls,” he says. “You’re always kind of working, and that’s true not only after the day ends, but also on vacation. I can be in another state or even another country, and people expect and are used to still having responses.”

He sees both the positives and negatives of having a smartphone at all times. It can have its disadvantages and headaches, he says, but overall has a tremendous benefit.

“I can be more responsive,” adds Claybourn. “Very often a client needs something quickly, so therefore I can get access to it and provide better service because of smartphones.”

For Miller and real estate agents, apps such as Trello, E-Key, and DocuSign allow them to post new listings, see who has viewed houses, and sign contracts with home owners all on their smartphones. Attorneys like Claybourn can rely on the apps Lexis Advance and Westlaw to research specific legal questions and look up municipal codes.

For small-business owners like Sara Davidson, director of marketing and part owner of Tin Man Brewing Company, the pros and cons of smartphones get a little trickier.

“It’s one of those things,” she says. “I mean, it’s a necessity, but at the same time, you don’t want it to be a distraction.”

While her employees are required to keep their smartphones off the floor to focus their attention on customers, Davidson herself uses her phone frequently for social media posts as well as answering any questions that may arise.

“Actually I wish I could throw mine away sometimes. You know, because it’s a constant,” she says. “For me, I think it’d be nice to put it down for a couple hours and just work. It’s a balancing act for sure.”

Debatably, no one is better at this balancing act than the younger generations who grew up in this technological boom. College students today were born into a time when cellphones and computers were reaching commonplace status. They are the masters of social media, the champions of hyper-connectivity, and the pioneers of new technology.

“As a young person, my phone — unless I had a separate work phone or separate school phone — has sort of become a part of me,” says Newburgh native Abbie Gipson. “It’s something that you need; it’s what you use most to communicate.”

The journalism and international studies major who attends Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, points out perhaps the biggest truth about smartphones today — they are no longer a luxury, but a necessity. The devices define social interactions and carry vital information. They serve as alarm clocks and road maps, give students grades at their fingertips, and allow them to coordinate projects in minutes.

“It’s a work culture that is kind of permeated by the idea that, if you can, then you should,” says Gipson, “where that line is just blurred and blurred and blurred.”

Cooper Pratt, an Evansville native and Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, student, believes smartphones are a tool to stay connected, but they do not replace face-to-face interactions.

“You’re still going to have to meet in person, because there are just some things you can’t convey over the phone,” he says. “But it’s definitely supplemented it.”

To this generation, smartphones are almost an afterthought — the devices are there as tools to conduct business in school and their personal lives. But they don’t require the phones to be happy.

“I think what’s important is to look at how it is affecting us, because I think we can be happy regardless,” says Gipson. “I just think it’s important to recognize the ways smartphones are making us unhappy.”

Phone Cases

One bittersweet smartphone side effect results from the ease mobile devices afford. With the privilege of portable information and communication comes the responsibility of keeping it classy and classified.

Jake Fulcher, a management side labor and employment attorney with Kahn, Dees, Donovan & Kahn, LLP, has noticed an uptick in company smartphone policies, often focused on sexual harassment and discrimination — workplace cyberbullying of sorts.

In addition, some businesses have instated policies regarding social media and company representation.

“Certainly employees can do things on behalf of their employer that they shouldn’t be doing, and that can happen with smartphones or anything else. It’s just now it’s a lot easier to run afoul, or accidentally send or lose something,” says Claybourn. “Also, now people can hack into phones and get access to not just your calls or voicemail, but the data that’s being sent to you.”

Before Claybourn practiced law at Jackson Kelly PLLC, he worked with Vectren, and he recalls a company-wide concern about access to critical utility infrastructure information on phones.

To quell worries over the potential of lost phones and sly hackers, he says, Vectren incorporated software similar to AirWatch Agent. This app, installed on Claybourn’s phone, allows for a swift remote scrub of confidential data.

“The flipside of that, as a lawyer,” says Claybourn, “is if there’s ever a lawsuit that requires access to that information, then you also have to top that with technology and software that will allow you to retrieve it and use it as evidence.”

Fulcher predicts a different sort of software will become popular after Dec. 1, when a new federal law takes effect.

The law sets the standard salary level at $913 per week or $47,476 per year for salaried workers — more than double the current standard. That means many overtime-exempt employees will become hourly workers and receive overtime pay for after-hours activity.

Subsequently, employers wonder how to track overtime accrued by new hourly employees who check email and take calls at home on their smartphones.

“If it’s unlikely that you’ll take the smartphone away, start looking at ways to manage their time on their phone after hours,” says Fulcher. “I think we’re going to see a lot more companies have policies, and there’s going to be some sort of business boom on shutting the phone off at a certain hour, turning email on and off, that sort of thing. A good little software business to get into.”

With unprecedented layers of complexity thrust upon the workplace by mobile technology, the logical question concerns the future of smartphone regulation.

“The smartphones are a tool, just like your note pad, just like your computer, just like your mind,” says Fulcher.  “The smartphone is just another tool that allows you to work more efficiently.  I do not think that the government is going to get into the business of regulating work specifically done on a smartphone. It will be up to the courts and employers to do that, if necessary.”

Swiping Forward

Of course, the future is far more than law and policy. While tomorrow rests in the hands of today’s young people and those teaching them, everyone has nuanced plans and predictions.

At the University of Southern Indiana Business and Engineering Center, assistant professor of computer science Gongjun Yan sees assistant professor of computer information systems Dinko Bacic walking by his office.

Yan waves him in.

“In any other university,” says Bacic, “we probably would not know about each other, like, at all.”

But USI is different, combining business and technology on a structural level. The move has paid off, as teams of students advised by Yan and Bacic have won awards at major information systems case competitions by developing apps and websites for local businesses and nonprofits.

“In the future,” says Yan, “if people are on the move, it’s very likely the smartphone is going to be the major device where they do their computing and communicating.”

“That’s the next challenge, really, because they’re realizing that executives are making decisions, which are being fed to them on a small screen,” says Bacic. “You’re forming this environment where it’s very conducive to make a decision quicker. We recognize it in our classes as the fact that students have to be aware of the mobile environment in which businesses make decisions.”

Much of Yan and his colleagues’ research also focuses on smartphones. While Yan is working to program a dash camera-phone-database system to
monitor driving habits, he says Hui Shi is studying artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

That same artificial intelligence, mobilized by smartphones, could be making its way into the legal profession.

“There have been a growing number of articles written about the potential for artificial intelligence to essentially act as a lawyer,” says Claybourn. “The thought has long been that professions that required some analytical skills would always require humans, but now with the advent and growth of artificial intelligence, you start to wonder just how far can it go.”

Dumb, Not Dead

They’re still alive. And they’re not just for older folks.
Basic cell phones, with classic flip and slide features, rest in the back corners of local cell carrier stores, waiting for pockets and purses just like their smarter counterparts.

Sometimes, says Verizon solutions specialist Prentis Kelly, a basic cell phone is the only mobile device a young person can afford.
The LG Revere 3, one of Verizon’s most popular basic phones, sells for just $50, making it the go-to for people who have destroyed their smartphones and don’t have insurance to pick up new ones.

The smartphone has already made its way to grocery shopping.

Miller’s daughter-in-law recently took advantage of Wal-Mart’s option to order products online and pick up her package of fresh groceries at the store.

“So that will be the next thing I implement,” says Miller. “We’ll shop totally online.”

Miller also has begun encouraging home sellers and builders to consider designating space in the house for charging stations.

“It’s just exciting times,” she says. “Imagine what’s going to come out next year with phones. Imagine what it’s going to do next!”

The smartphone trend could die out, and everyone could go back to flip phones. But Pratt doesn’t see that happening.

“We’ve already opened the Pandora’s box of communication,” he says. “There’s no putting it all back, but one of the good things about smartphones is you don’t have to do everything. In a way, a smartphone can be dumb if you just use it that way.” 

 

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