The smartphone. This tiny object that has become so entrenched with our lives that we can hardly live without it nowadays. A micro tool, connected with hundreds of millions of other micro tools via invisible waves, storing every second tons of data about our locations, habits or interactions. An augmenting reality lens, overwhelming us constantly with information, twisting our behavior in ways we couldn’t imagine just 15 years ago.
Well, enough about the phone. I’m not gonna go down the “how bad smartphones are for us” rabbit hole (at least not in this post). Instead, I’m going to do an imagination exercise: how would you explain this device to a dog? There’s something about this that I find very important, for us, humans. We’ll see at the end why.
The Pavlov Route
Suppose you’re putting your iPhone near your dog, and every time you’re about to feed the dog, you’re making a call, so the phone rings. In time, the dog will make a connection between the phone ringing and the food coming. That’s just a rewrite of the famous Pavlov experiment, as you already figured it out.
But is that meaning the dog really understands the iPhone? Or just a tiny causality linking a specific object to a specific event? Does the dog understand concepts like electricity (and storing it temporarily in batteries), integrated circuits, radio frequency, liquid crystal displays, touch interfaces, haptic feedback? It does understand that it makes a noise before he gets food.
The Interactive Route
Now, let’s say you’re playing some movies on your iPhone screen and show them to your dog. Also, you may play some sounds, like a few variations of barking. Now, the dog my understand there are a few tiny dogs inside that object and they are trying to communicate with him. He may try to respond to those signals, or he may try to engage in some sort of playing with the moving shapes (which may be some dogs viewed through a very tiny window).
But is that meaning the dog really understands the iPhone? Does the dog understands where exactly the other dogs are, or how the barking reached him?
The Smelly Route
Now, if you really don’t care about your iPhone, you may just put it near one of your favorite dog trees and wait until your dog marks its territory. If some of the “marks” are dropping on the iPhone, a new type of connection will be made. The dog will start thinking he has some sort of ownership over that iPhone, that it belongs to him.
But is that meaning the dog really understands what it means to own an iPhone? Does it understand the concept of money and subscriptions?
I’m sure you can find many other ways to explain the iPhone to a dog, but, invariably, you will hit a wall. There’s just so much a dog can understand about his environment. He is, in a sense, a prisoner to his own limitations. Whatever makes te dog survive and live a good dog’s life, is just not enough to make him understand something so outside of his reach. The iPhone cannot pervade the dog’s mind, because there is no way for the dog to make sense of that object.
And here comes the interesting part I was talking about in the beginning. Are you ready? Ok.
Switch “dog” with you, and “iPhone” with your entire life, as it is right now.
You may understand various parts of your life, just like the dog understands when he’s getting food, or that he’s interacting with other dogs through a tiny window, or that he “owns” the iPhone because he pissed on it, but do you really, really understand how life works?
Don’t tell me you’re smarter than a dog. We burned some of our females just because they were riding brooms. Just until 400 years ago, as a species, we all believed Earth is flat and immobile. The guy who discovered microbes died in a mental institution, because the other dogs couldn’t fathom something so outside of their minds reach. We twist our cubs’ minds to believe in this old guy dressed in red, flying on a sledge pulled by reindeers, giving them presents once a year, but then we are outraged when they want to marry a tree.
And I could go on like this way more than it would take to a dog to understand that, if he pisses on an iPhone, he will own it.
Think about that next time you are convinced you own something, anything, in your life.
Initially published on my blog.
I'm a geek, blogger and ultrarunner. You can find me mainly on my blog at Dragos Roua where I write about productivity, business, relationships and running. Here on Hive you may stay updated by following me @dragosroua.
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