Equations of Everday Life #1.1: Smartphone Distraction Update

“What’s the killer app?  Making a phone call.”–Steve Jobs

“I only have dummy phones.”–Don Rickles

With the announcement of the new iPhone models 5S and 5C its time to revisit, with slight modification, the original post of this series.  Appropriately enough, I now use an app on my iPhone for tracking my bicycle treks.  So now I have distracted cycling to go along with distracted everything else.  To paraphrase Don Rickles, we only have dummies with phones.  Present company?  No comment.  For the original version of this post, click here.







Don’t be deceived.  It is far more complicated than it looks.   Where attention to the outside world in the absence of a smart phone (Aa)equals 1, then attention to the outside world in the presence of a smartphone (As) is approximately equal to the inverse of the number of cool apps on said smartphone (n) times the I-Phone or equivalent model number (m).    Yes, approximately equal to—because nothing is that precise in the quantum mechanical world of electronics, and anyway I like using that smart looking squiggly thingy over the equal sign.   Taking the example of my own I-Phone 4, I have 14 apps I would describe as being “cool.”  As 14 x 4 is 56, then when I am packing my phone, my attention level to the outside world is an astonishingly small 1/56th of normal.  This is dangerous.  As I’m reputed to be a major space shot to begin with,  I should probably be banned from breathing and texting at the same time.   But that calculation can wait for another day, as even the basics get much more complicated.


What will happen if I upgrade to the new I-Phone 5s and add the pernicious feature known as Siri?

It gets ugly in a hurry.  The equation now looks like this:


Yikes!  We now have to square the denominator and in the personal example stated above, my attention level would be 1/702of my normally spaced out self.  This computes to 1/4900.

I don’t know if the Planck length applies to this,  but a few more apps and new models and my attention level will certainly approach it.  Also note that the “s” on the right side of the equation stands for Siri and has no numerical value.  It just makes the equation appear more complex and disguises my general ignorance of advanced mathematics. Anyway, this demonstrates why I don’t yet have Siri.  If I did, I would have proposed to her long ago and been off to Vegas for a quickie divorce from my wife by now.  Ah, for the days when the internet was still in black and white.

Endnote:  The addition of the new model 5C creates a conundrum.  How should we calculate for that, and for that matter, what’s the difference? Well, C apparently stands for cheap, and that’s as in construction, not price.   Any suggestions how to compute that?


  1. I have to bookmark this – this is quantitative justification for my denial of any type of touch screen smartphone so far, let alone an iPhone. I use an old Blackberry-style Samsung phone and the only “app” I use is syncing e-mails.

  2. I should just use the damned thing for phone calls. Hmmm. Is there an app for that?

  3. Just got a smart phone; another thing with which to disassociate myself from society. Personally, I would like to go back to the days when you had to go through an operator to phone someone; at least, you would still be interacting with humans.

  4. I have recently joined the world of smartphone dummies and much to my chagrin I’m loving every minute of it. I never thought it would happen to me. That lovely voice search feature on my Sony Xperia gets used for my copious ‘I wonder?’ moments, and unlike my mother with her precocious little daughter, this thing is thrilled to give me full answers at all times. Since I was usually submerged in the moments of the immediate surroundings of my small town in a fabulously-frighteningly Zen manner, I’d like to think this is a balancing factor to my isolationist attention and perhaps the distraction factor is actually a tuning in to the world at large for me…I’ll leave you to do the math. (Note: A voice search was used for the spelling of chagrin and precocious in this comment. I was too distracted to remember I have auto-correct here. It was a good thing I had it however, or chagrin would be either ‘sugar in’ or ‘should grin’. I suspect you’ll find Siri gives great fodder for twisted poetry lines.)

  5. Funny you should mention the Planck length when just the other day I was talking with a friend about odd names and mentioned that my maiden name is Planck and I’m (distantly) related to Max. Then I had to explain who Max was…

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