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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

March 16, 2013 at 9:58 PM

Isn’t it time we stop apologizing for our phones?

It was an email like any other email. Except for the tiny, lowercase apology peeking up at me from the bottom.

“pardon the brevity, sent via phone”

I shook my head. One of those again.

Last week, the Pew Internet & American Life Project released its latest survey about technology and teens. Among the findings: 25 percent of teen cellphone users use their phones as the primary way of accessing all things Internet, far more than the 15 percent of adults who do the same. Of teens who own smartphones, half use them as their main way online.

Teens have a funny way of predicting the future. Are our phones becoming our main ticket online?

And if they are, can we please, please stop apologizing for them?

The term “mobile first” gets thrown around a lot in tech circles these days. To developers, it’s the belief that designing an app for mobile puts you on a path to success. To companies like Apple and Google, it’s a strategy to focus on a space where growth is certain. When Facebook announced this month that it’s redesigning its desktop site to mirror its mobile site, tech journalists saw it as clear evidence of a new era: Mobile, the baby brother to big machines and big screens, is growing up and calling the shots.

To the rest of us, “mobile first” doesn’t mean a whole lot — yet.

As long as we’re asking people to excuse what we do on our phones, we’re going to stay very much mobile second.

That’s not to say there aren’t some situations where mobile, for most of us, just doesn’t cut it, and maybe never will. Sarah Evans, a public-relations celebrity with a huge presence on social media, asked her Facebook followers an interesting question this month: If you had to work entirely on your phone for a whole week, could you do it?

The response was almost unanimous: Hell no.

We can communicate better, in most ways, on our phones than on our desktops. But work? Tiny screens are still best for straightforward messages and incremental updates. The project you need to look at two documents and four emails to write? Better wait ’til you have a screen big enough to see them.

Teens can tap out a short novel’s worth of status updates in no time. But are they going to be writing comprehensive quarterly reports on those same screens?

Not likely.

Still, we’ve come a long way from the days of texts like “c u soon,” and it’s time we acted like it. We can stand to write whole words now. And we can do it without skimping on substance, punctuation, capitalization or — how is anyone still getting away with this? — begging forgiveness for typos.

We’ve had a few years — several, actually — to get used to those little buttons and taps. That’s long enough. We can choose to be super brief when we write messages, but no one’s saying we have to be. And, yes, we can proofread.

Saying you’re on your phone can be good for giving context and managing expectations around that context. I get that. But how much longer will those expectations need managing? With more and more emails coming from phones, how much longer will the meaning of “Sent from my BlackBerry” be clear to everyone, and “Excuse the brevity” seem necessary? In 2007, the year iPhones first came out, 19 percent of cellphone users sent email with their phones. Today, 50 percent do.

The most popular Google search associated with the phrase “Sent from my iPhone” asks how to remove it.

Already people are repurposing their mobile email signatures into something more fun.

Seattle Web producer Lisa Gettings’ reads, “Sent from the greatest device ever made.” Reporter Jessica Estepa’s reads, “Sent from my phone. Damn you autocorrect.” Musician James Whetzel’s has a reference to the time traveling spaceship in “Doctor Who”: “Sent from TARDIS.”

It can’t be long before mobile apologies go out of style.

“Mine just says my name,” wrote photographer Richard Wood. “I take full responsibility for my iPhone.”

Mónica Guzmán’s column appears in Sunday’s Seattle Times. Got a story about living with technology in the Northwest — or know someone she should meet? Send her an email, follow her on Twitter @moniguzman or send her a message on Facebook.

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