O'BRIEN: Need to waste time? Just pull out your smartphone

Posted: Dec. 18, 2012 9:52 am Updated: Jan. 29, 2013 11:15 am

As I sat down for lunch last week at a local sandwich shop, I took inventory of my surroundings.

The woman sitting by herself at the table across from me was concentrating on her smartphone. The guy to my left, also sitting by himself, had just pulled out his iPhone to entertain himself during the his lunch. As I scanned the room, I dug into my pocket to take out my iPhone. All alone for lunch, I also needed something to pass the time while I chowed.

This scene is getting more common by the day. From restaurants to medical waiting rooms to the bathroom, more and more people are turning to their smartphones to help them kill time.

My wife sees this as a problem. It bothers her when we go out and she sees people around a table at a restaurant and they're all on their phones rather than interacting with each other. I am pretty much banned from cellphone use/peeks when we are out.

According to, more than half of all cellular phones are smartphones. The smartphone market makes up 55 percent of the market and that number will only grow.

When I got my first cellphone in 1997, I tried not to be tied to it. I didn't want to be connected all the time. Some 15 years later, I can't imagine living without my smartphone -- I just went over to the iPhone after a long time with Blackberry. If I leave home without it, I feel a bit naked.

Just think of the things you can do from your cellphone these days. We've come a long way from being able to play a game of snake or solitare. At the touch of a screen, I can be on the Internet or play with any of the millions of applications available on my phone.

What are my favorite ways to kill time? Here's a look at my favorite phone apps:

1. Social media -- I've already professed my love of Twitter and Facebook here. Both sites have easy to navigate cellphone apps, too. With Facebook's check-in function, you'll know if any friends are close to you if you check-in from the spot you're at. Kind of creepy, but cool at the same time.

2. Words With Friends -- I have to think I was one of the last people in the world to start playing this game. It's kind of like Scrabble where you get seven tiles to make words. You play against someone, usually one of your Facebook friends, and try to score points. Whoever scores the most points wins. There are double- and triple-letter score tiles and double- and triple-word score tiles that are valuable real estate. I've been playing for about four months now. I was terrible at first, but have figured out the keys to victory. You have to take advantage of the special tiles and have the ability to make up words like "qis," "zax," and "qat." Yes, they are actual words. No, I don't know what any of them mean.

3. ESPN -- When I first got a cellphone, I subscribed to a service that would send me text messages for final scores for all Chicago Bulls and Eastern Illinois University men's basketball games. Now, I can find out scores of any game that I want and more. Instead of waiting for final scores, I can get up-to-the-second updates on hundreds of games. Not only do I get Bulls and EIU info feed directly into a feed, but I track Western Illinois men's and women's basketball, the St. Louis Cardinals and Manchester United scores and news with ease. Are you kidding me?

4. Watch ESPN -- Yes, I can watch ESPN on my phone. ESPN3 is the Internet-only version of ESPN that is available as an app on my iPhone. What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than by watching your college alma mater get hammered by nearly 50 points in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs on a 4-inch screen?

5. iTalk -- I have ditched my recorder that I use for work to do interviews with my phone. The app allows me to conduct interviews that I could easily upload to the Internet. Now all of the multimedia work I do for the Whig is done with my phone.




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