And thinkpieces on smartphones.
Over the last week, I’ve read two excellent articles on smartphones: this essay on the sociology of smartphones by Alexander Koerner; and this article on the creation of the iPhone by Lev Grossman. (The latter is a book review, but still worth reading if you’re curious about tech in the modern era.)
The iPhone turns 10 this year, which means that at some point there is going to be a deluge of thinkpieces and op-eds and maybe a “Build a Phone and We’ll Guess What Year You Were Born In” article on Buzzfeed. (I’m usually never on top of the trends, so it’s nice to be ahead on this one.)
The iPhone was born in 2007. I got my first phone the following year. It looked something like this:
I was only to use it for two things: texting my parents that I’d reached school, and calling my parents in emergencies. That Christmas, I chose five friends to text holiday messages to. Emojis were forbidden (they cost extra) and the internet was a big no-no. Snakes was fun though.
Looking back, the whole practice is so archaic, especially if you consider what I do on my phone just in my first hour of waking: turn off my alarm, practice Duolingo and Elevate brain training, check my emails, check my social media and listen to music. (I sometimes work out to the music. Sometimes.) Even these few actions, which span at least ten different apps, show how rapidly our technology has moved, and the vast changes to both our attitudes and behaviours it has forced.
Now, this is by no means an empirical study: I’m what they call a Young Millenial, a Digital Native, but I’ve also been at least two years behind cutting-edge of commercially available technology, because, well, I’m a Young Millenial. We’re poor, bro. My current phone, despite updating its OS twice, now struggles if I have too many apps open, refuses to use the torchlight under any circumstances, and half of the screen flashes a hideous green if I turn the brightness down to minimum. It’s been in my life for two years, and when I got it, the technology was already two years out of date. That’s like receiving bruised brown bananas and watching them slowly grow mould as you fight to make smoothies with them.
Despite all of this, I’ve grown quite attached to my phone — it does what I ask it to most of the time, and I’ve become used to deleting photos to make room for app updates. It’s a special kind of love, really, because this is only my second smartphone, and I wouldn’t have been able to do nearly half the things I now do on a daily basis even five years ago. Example: Whilst my peers were busy downloading Facebook onto their phones back in 2010, I was busy trying to figure out which two songs I wanted on my Samsung c6112 (I eventually settled on Owl City’s Fireflies, which is making a welcome memeified comeback, and Justin Bieber’s Baby, to my eternal shame).
Back then, I’d still have to ask for directions. Back then, I’d stand by the radio to record my favourite song, or beg friends to Bluetooth me their better, probably illegal version. Back then, if I wanted to use the internet, I’d have to wait until lunchtime to see what everyone else had been doing on Facebook the night before.
It really astounds me how much life has changed in the last decade. I remember being outraged by toddlers having their own mobile phones (I got my Nokia brick when I was 13); now I have to deal with my five-year-old students having YouTube channels and Minecraft accounts, admiring vloggers and gamers with the same sort of enthusiasm that I held for Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels. (Which, by the way, is an absolute romp through the traditional white male world of spies, and I thoroughly recommend it.)
Which brings me to the thinkpieces. I think I understand it, this very real need to write and create about everything we know and witness, because so much of human history has been lost to time and we now have the ability to record almost everything. It’s very much a development that has sat alongside and been accelerated by our ability to create and disseminate articles, opinions, videos and other media at an exponential rate.
I wonder where we’ll be in a decade’s time.