I was on a ferry crossing Sydney Harbour, sitting outside surrounded by wind, waves and spectacular views when I saw the young girl in front of me ask her father something. He sighed, nodded and handed over his smartphone. Next thing the girl's head was buried in it and the swish of the sea was interrupted by electronic squawks.
I don't know anything about the girl or her family except that they seemed to be on a one-off adventure, rather than a daily commute. My kids have been on maybe a dozen ferry rides in their lives and each one has been magical for them. They talk about it for days afterwards. I wondered what this little girl would remember of her ride.
Each year, there is an increasing amount of new, portable technology that enables us to do all sorts of things any time and anywhere - and the temptation is to grab it all. Once the novelty of a Smartphone 5 wears off, the Smartphone 6 is here. And it's new and shiny and has more stuff.
The challenge we all face is to resist the temptation to think that whatever is new is necessarily better. We should think about the advantages new technology offers us, but also about the disadvantages. There are many great things about smartphones, but one reason I don't have one is that I, and my kids, would always know that there were computer games in my pocket - even when we were on the ferry or at the beach.
Being able to instantly view any movie you like via your computer is great, but is there a downside? No longer will you leave your home to walk to the video shop, bump into your neighbours on the way and have a chat. Nor will you find out that the person who runs the shop is actually a nice guy you like talking to. Also, it takes effort to walk down to get a vid, so I am only going to do it when I really want to watch one, rather than any time I am bored for an instant.
The ultimate question should always be this: Will acquiring a particular piece of new technology actually make my life better? If it won't, don't get it.
Some of our most valuable time occurs when nothing's going on. Walking somewhere, or sitting on the train or the bus; times when no one can get hold of you, and you don't have to do anything or think about anything and can just take a few moments to chill out. You may not notice it, but after a bit of that, your brain gets refreshed, just as your body would be if it had been working all day and then you gave it a break.
Unfortunately, the instances when this downtime naturally occurs in a day are getting fewer and fewer, because so many of us are always connected. New communications technology has certainly allowed us to increase the quantity of things we get done each day, but what about the quality? It might take 15 bus trips staring out the window before something sparks an idea that you can use in your work or elsewhere in your life. Or maybe it will take 30 bus trips, or even 100. But how many new ideas are going to pop into your head if you fill every spare second with Angry Birds, Twitter or email maintenance?
I am not a technophobe. In fact, as host of The New Inventors, I spent eight years marvelling at wonderful things people had created. But I do believe that the purpose of new technology should be to make our lives better, and in our rush to embrace as much new technology as we can get our hands on, sometimes we forget that. We get it because it's there, because it does really amazing stuff, because everyone else is talking about how cool it is, rather than because we have carefully weighed up the advantages and disadvantages of getting it.
One of the reasons I am resisting getting a smartphone is that, if I had one, the temptation to waste time in a thousand different ways would always be with me, and my will power isn't that strong that I am confident I would resist. I'm not an alcoholic; but on the other hand, I wouldn't want to test it by living next door to a pub.
I feel the same about smartphones. I have never played Angry Birds or Embarrassed Lizards or any of the others. But if I had them in my pocket all day, I probably would. Maybe even when I was on the ferry.
James O'Loghlin is an ABC broadcaster and former host of The New Inventors.