Terry Miller is killing time while waiting for a friend.
Terry Miller is killing time while waiting for a friend. Charles Mudede

I enter Cafe Presse and see Terry Miller. He is sitting alone and looking at the screen of his smartphone. I interrupt him to exchange small talk, as we are on friendly terms. He explains that he is waiting for someone who was supposed to meet him 30 minutes ago. It is a woman he has known for a long time, and she has just sent a text promising she's on the way. The reason he can endure this waiting without bad feelings is, precisely, the smartphone. There are e-mails to read, videos to watch, and pictures to post on social network sites. Because the smartphone is great at killing time, waiting is not what it used be...
...I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn't wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game. Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time.
This is Roland Barthes writing in the 1970s. We in the second decade of the 21st century do not have to play these tedious games anymore. We have smartphones—a technology that has not only transformed waiting but, according to a recent and almost Onion-sounding Newsweek post, also homelessness and hobo culture. In the way smartphones give waiting people something to do, they, it is speculated (there isn't much hard data in this area of social research), make life without the basic human right of four walls and a roof "easier."

The post is way too positive about this development. Smartphones are not anywhere near the solution to homelessness—and besides, as the author points out herself, smartphones constantly need to be charged, and there aren't many public or open spaces that provide free juice. If smartphones ended the games of waiting for the Barthian lover, they are introducing another and more cruel game for the millennial hobo: stretching out the life of a battery's charge.

“I keep my phone off a lot, or in airplane mode," [says Huck] "because we can only charge up for a short time—maybe once a day, or sometimes it will be two to three days between charges, maybe an hour of charge.” For Huck and his fellow itinerants, smartphone usage is measured in instants. “We check Google Maps and then we turn it off, or we make a quick phone call and then we turn it off.”
But even if that problem were solved, even if the public found ways to provide more and more electrical outlets (and also cheaper and cheaper data plans) to the homeless, smartphones will never be able to kill the time one spends without a home in the way they can kill the time one spends waiting for a late friend or a lover.