Cellular phones have had a major impact on our lives and the way that we perform every day tasks. Many of these changes are apparent, while others we may not even be aware of.
Cell phones have brought a whole new meaning to the term multitasking. Twenty years ago, it was not possible to talk to the office while you were at the grocery store picking up some necessary items. You could never have had a three-way business conference while you were fixing dinner or been able to deal with a business client from home while caring for a sick child. Cell phones have enabled us to do various tasks all at the same time.
Cell phones have also enabled families to keep in closer touch with each other. Children can contact you if they have missed their ride form soccer practice and your spouse can call while he is stuck in traffic to let you know that he is going to be late for supper. Teenagers are able to call to ask permission to go somewhere, and with GPS features that are now available on some cell phones, you are able to check to make sure that they are where they are suppose to be.
Many of these advantages we do not even notice. Have you ever arrived at the grocery store and realized that you have forgotten your grocery list? The first thing you would probably do is to call home and have one of your children read the list off to you. In the same situation in past years, you may have forgotten things or have had to drive all the way back home to get it. If your car breaks down, you automatically call for help instead of having to walk to find a pay phone. Cell phones have certainly made our lives much more convenient.
Cell phones have also changed the way that people interact with each other. When we call someone, we are actually calling the person and not a place. This enables us to be more spontaneous when making plans as you rarely get a busy signal and unlike a land line telephone, someone is always home. Cell phones also enable us to call if we are going to be late for an appointment, although this has led to cell phone users running late more often than those who do not have cell phones. These users seem to have adopted the attitude that appointment times are not concrete and use their cell phones to renegotiate their arrival time.
One of the greatest disadvantages of the cellular phone is the fact that we do not talk to strangers when traveling anymore. In the past, several people waiting for a bus would engage in a conversation while they were waiting. People who traveled the same routes every day might develop friendships along the way. This situation does not happen anymore. Today when people are waiting for a bus, they just pull out their cell phones and speak with old friends, missing out on the opportunity to make new ones. In large cities, many people do not know their neighbors, even though they may have lived in the same neighborhood for years. As a society, we are beginning to lose the face-to-face contact that was such an important part of our lives in the past.
Cell phones are a great asset in aiding in our every day lives. You should remember, however, to hang up every once in a while and pay attention to the world around you.
Xconomy National —
I’m lakeside this week in northern Michigan, hanging out with my extended family. It’s been interesting to observe my six-year-old nephew, who won’t go anywhere without a Power Rangers Megaforce robot in one hand and a Ty Monstaz plush toy in the other. They’re right beside him at the breakfast table, on the dock, at the beach, in the car, and in bed, like 21st-century security blankets.
It would be easy to chuckle at his attachment to the toys, if it weren’t so obvious that I have my own security blanket: my smartphone. Without it, I’m prone to feelings of anxiety and disconnectedness—an experience likely shared by hundreds of millions of other adults. It’s my compass, my map, my calendar, my camera, my news source, my emergency transponder, and generally the umbilical cord linking me to civilization.
While companies were already using the term “smartphone” in the late 1990s, the real arrival of these bewitching and now-ubiquitous gadgets can be dated to June 29, 2007, the day Apple released the iPhone. That was just two days after Xconomy went live on the Web, so in a sense the publication—along with many other online publications—has grown up right alongside smartphone technology. It’s hard to think of any other invention that has been embraced so quickly, so widely, and so wholeheartedly as the smartphone. Today we’re so accustomed to having the devices with us—at the breakfast table, on the dock, at the beach, in the car, and in bed—that we forget how new they really are, and how much they’ve changed our lives.
For the sake of perspective, let’s run through a list of activities that were somewhere between “tedious” and “impossible” on a phone before the summer of 2007.
Sending a text message. Before touchscreen devices with virtual QWERTY keyboards, texting required either a Blackberry-style device with a physical keyboard or the patience to multi-tap on a numeric keypad.
Listening to music. Between 2005 and 2009, Apple and Motorola worked together on an uninspiring line of phones called Rokr that could run Apple’s iTunes media player software. Other than that, it was pretty hard to download or store music on a phone, let alone play it.
Settling a bar-room argument, or looking up the name of that actor in that movie. The first few generations of Web-capable mobile phones couldn’t really handle HTML, so the mobile Web was ugly and slow. If you remember the Wireless Access Protocol, or WAP, then you can recall the minimalist numeric menus that, after much fuss, gave you access to a few news headlines or sports scores. Checking Wikipedia or IMDB, or figuring out what song was playing? Forget about it.
Taking a selfie. Before smartphones, cameras with front-facing displays (or displays with front-facing cameras) were rare. So you couldn’t properly frame a photo of yourself posing in front of the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, or the Miss Piggy balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Sharing your selfies—with anyone. Before iOS and Android, there was no Instagram, no Snapchat, no Hipstamatic, no Path. It was only after engineers married cameras, phones, 4G wireless broadband, and photo-filter apps that photography emerged as a compelling form of social media.
Getting directions and navigating. If you were traveling somewhere new, you had to fire up a desktop browser before your trip, go to a service like Mapquest, and print out a map. If you forgot to do that, you were on your own. And even with the map, unless you had a passenger or a stand-alone navigation system, you didn’t have a voice reading turn-by-turn directions.
Playing Angry Birds, Words With Friends, or Infinity Blade. I’m old enough to remember a time when the pinnacle of entertainment on a mobile phone was a maze game called Snake. Thanks to Moore’s Law, the graphics cards in today’s smartphones rival those in the high-end game consoles of just a few years ago.
Taking the office with you. Farhad Manjoo had a nice piece in the New York Times last week about the benefits smartphones bring for busy professional parents, who can more easily mix work and family life. “Because you can work from anywhere thanks to your phone, you can be present and at least partly attentive to your children in scenarios where, in the past, you’d have had to be totally absent,” Manjoo pointed out. Of course, there’s also a certain cost to having an e-mail inbox that you can never really get away from. But overall, smartphones add greatly to our productivity, by letting us get things done without having to be at our desks.
And this list only scratches the surface. I’m on record predicting that there won’t be any more earthshaking changes in consumer computing technology until the early 2020s, in part because it takes such a long time for what I call “organizing innovations” like the smartphone to be properly absorbed and exploited. There’s plenty of room for smartphone designers to make the devices even more powerful and appealing than they are today, without wasting time exploring tangents like smart watches, smart glasses, or other wearables. (Smartphones are wearables: you wear them in your pocket, your purse, or your hand.)
You can take my laptop. You can take my tablet. But you can’t take my smartphone from me: it’s the centerpiece of my information existence, and yours, I’m betting.
It’s no wonder people bought nearly a billion of the glowing gadgets in 2013. They’re as irresistible for adults as Power Rangers and My Little Pony are for my nephew and niece.
And you can even use them to make phone calls.
Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast