In his zeal to promote his company's forthcoming Internet-connected glasses, Google co-founder Sergey Brin managed to impugn smartphone usage as an activity unfit for men.
At the TED Conference, Brin observed that using a smartphone disconnects you from other people, forcing you to look away. "Is this the way you're meant to interact with other people?" he asked, according to the TED blog, adding, "It's kind of emasculating. Is this what you're meant to do with your body?"
Brin may have a point. According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Andrology -- no longer accessible, but available through the Internet Archive -- the radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation from cell phones may decrease sperm count and sperm quality. However, it's also possible that cell phones have nothing to do with this phenomenon. Another study suggests sperm counts are falling globally.
However, Brin's indictment of smartphones appears to be more social than biological. Smartphones make you withdraw from the world, he charges. To demure thus, well, that's fine for women, but for a man?
[ Perhaps it has something to do with sports? Read Google Sports Game Shows Web Tech Power. ]
Clearly, Google wanted men to be able to use smartphones without being emasculated: The name of Google's mobile operating system, Android, is derived from the Greek word for man. But given that in 2011, 61% of Android users were men, it's difficult to share Brin's concern.
Brin's fix appears to be Project Glass. Ignore for the moment the fact that Google last September collaborated with fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg to show off Project Glass. Focus on Project Glass as a way to capture sporting activities like skydiving, because "capturing" has a manly ring to it. Project Glass represents technology that allows you to bring your belligerent, smouldering manliness to bear in the form of your implacable, penetrating stare.
I'm not convinced. If we swallow social stereotypes without question and agree for the sake of argument that we're going to associate men with self-reliance and fortitude, turning to Google's glasses for directions, communication and companionship is about as girly as it gets.
Real men arrive at their destination through brute force pathfinding -- through the wall, not around it -- and should be able to communicate without words or with a loud bellow for those too far away to be physically intimidated. (Terse, threatening catch-phrases like, "Do you feel lucky?" may be used sparingly.)
Nonetheless, rather than accept Brin's judgement of smartphones, we can save them. We have the technology. Women may have earned 58.7% of the college degrees in the U.S. in 2009, but that doesn't mean they alone deserve smartphones.
Here's what men must do to reclaim the smartphone.
Armor Your Smartphone
Smartphones are fragile as a flower and must be protected. So secure it in armor. Get the biggest case you can find and lock it up. Something like ARM's Ascent Rugged Mobile cases. Sure, that may be inconvenient because it won't fit in your pocket or man-purse. But really, you should be carrying your phone on your tool belt.
Nothing says male like a joystick. Turn your touchy-feely touchscreen phone into a knobby gaming peripheral with something like the GameKlip Smartphone Joystick Adapter or the JOYSTICK-IT iPhone Arcade Stick
Just Add Gun
Will anyone call you a sissy when your smartphone is mounted on your rifle? Probably not. Hence the S4 Gear Jackknife Smartphone Gun Mount, which can also be used to make one's smartphone accessible during other manly activities like riding an ATV, motorcycle or golf cart. (On second thought, golf carts are probably not sufficiently rugged to convince anyone that you haven't been tamed by your smartphone.)
That's No iPhone, It's A Scope
If merely mounting your phone on a rifle isn't manly enough, try turning your smartphone into an actual targeting scope. The iScope is for hunters who want to film their kills and for kids "who like that video game experience while actually hunting." If nothing else, this is sure to pave the path to a career piloting drones.
Don't Accessorize, Weaponize
Actions speak louder than words, particularly when punctuated by fists. The Knucklecase turns your iPhone into something like brass knuckles, aluminum knuckles to be precise. Try it with the Bump app! Just don't hit anyone with it: Knucklecase is intended for device protection, not personal protection. And apparently the TSA likes to confiscate this particular variety of smartphone case. Taking this concept a step further, there's the Yellow Jacket Case, a case for the Samsung G3 and iPhone 5 that doubles as a stun gun.
Swipe, Tap, But Don't Touch
Thu-Huong Ha, the writer who reported Brin's comments, suggests in her paraphrasing of Brin's words that Brin sees something less than masculine in "rubbing a featureless piece of glass." So stop caressing your phone! Smartphones may have touchscreens but that doesn't mean you have to be gentle with them. Try swiping, which hints at something more transgressive than a neutral touch, or tapping (forcefully). Try shaking, many apps support it.
For the developers out there, try lobbying Apple and Google to support new modes of interaction, like slam, hammer and pound. Call it MultiTouch Extreme. It shouldn't be a hard sell: The need for a pressure sensor to gauge the force of user input would justify a new generation of hardware. Then we'd get to see how tough Gorilla Glass really is.
Vet Your Ringtones
If your ringstones come from songs released by any pop artist, they're probably not manly enough. You may be tempted to turn off the ringer, but vibrate is not the way to go. Avoid ringtones with recognizable melody or harmony. Try Rammstein or other metal bands. "We Are The Champions" by Queen may be used, but if the issue of sexual orientation comes up, you must feign ignorance.
Attach A Lens
Turn your smartphone into ... a smartphone with a lens. While an attachable lens sort of defeats the purpose of having a smartphone with a built-in camera, it may allow you to take wide-angle and telephoto pictures without relying on a suboptimal digital zoom. Also, it's inherently phallic and fits into all that academic musing about the male gaze and voyeurism.
When In Doubt, Duct Tape
Just slap a strip of duct tape on your smartphone -- preferably a device with visible scars -- and everyone will assume it belongs to a man. This has not been scientifically proven, but let's call it a hunch. (No, not "intuition." That's for women.)
Ditch Those Touchscreen Gloves
Real men do not wear fingerless gloves to operate their smartphones. And don't think you can get around that dictum by buying legitimate gloves with conductive material on the fingertips.
Nevermind the studies that indicate people generally find women's voices more appealing than men's. Give Siri a dose of testosterone by changing your iPhone language preference for Siri. In the General/Siri/Language preference menu, change English (United States) to English (United Kingdom), and she becomes a he. Android users may wish to consider a voice changing app.
All the class of TruckNutz, but for your iPhone. Sorry, Android users.