*Note: This essay was originally published on the Modern War Institute’s Commentary & Analysis site.
Smartphones: the strategist’s most insidious insider threat.
Strategists are knowledge workers; attention is their scarce, sparse, spendable resource. Smartphones, and other mobile, ever-present, internet-linked devices, hijack human attention at the speed of “click.” These performance-degrading, digital dealers of info-dopamine consume the mind and deny the focus, rendering the hapless victim’s attention span lower than that of a goldfish. And devices for staying connected often ironically result in disconnecting users from their own judgment, which is the fundamental problem: smartphones obstruct strategists from “deep work.”
When your mind is your weapon, concentration matters. Just as great athletes don’t smoke as not to inhibit their lungs, great strategists don’t use smartphones as not to inhibit their minds.
Cal Newport, in his book, Deep Work, defines this title concept as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.” This is precisely what strategists provide. For strategists, engaged in deep work means writing, means reading, means thinking. When your mind is your weapon, concentration matters. Just as great athletes don’t smoke as not to inhibit their lungs, great strategists don’t use smartphones as not to inhibit their minds.
Craftsmen choose their tools wisely. Here are 10 reasons why strategists ought to exercise the moral courage to ditch these self-lobotomizers:
- Smartphone use means constant multitasking; multitasking is not possible.
- Google cannot provide a Theory of Victory (if use x resource, then achieve y outcome). Bing is even less likely.
- Strategists do not spend thousands and thousands of precious mental moments Tweeting. Just as nobody will Tweet the revolution, nobody will Tweet a war winning strategy.
- Sharp tools; dull minds: over-reliance on technology lapses into complacency.
- Smartphones infantilize one’s sense of direction. Clausewitz considered terrain sense a part of military genius. Google Maps denies this skill’s practice.
- Smartphones deliver information, never knowledge or wisdom.
- Smartphone connectivity provides external networking at the cost of internal insights. The former can be accomplished with alternate means, the latter can never be replaced.
- Strategists practice the strategic arts in human affairs, and therefore must be masters of the interpersonal. Smartphones block sincere, eye-to-eye, human engagement.
- War is unending boredom punctuated by intense bouts of violence. As such, managing boredom impacts preparedness for combat, while smartphones prevent boredom through digital escapism. You cannot develop a “fingertip feel” for the battlefield if your finger never leaves a glass screen.
- No smartphones were consulted or harmed in the making of this essay; this list was entirely conceived in pen and ink.
BONUS: This goes for general officers as well; the best thing you could do for that flag officer in your life is to execute that Blackberry with extreme prejudice. Ironically, trading up to a “dumbphone” might be the smartest decision you’ll ever make.