The Smartphone Culture

"With the iPhone and the App Store, Apple unlocked what I call the anything-anytime-anywhere future, which has far-reaching implications for everything. If we have accessible data everywhere, then the way we learn in classrooms, treat medicine, fight crime, report the news, and do business are all going to have to transform."  
                   - Brian X. Chen, technology writer and author of Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future - And Locked Us In

The Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future

The Apple App Store currently has over 400,000 apps - and the Google Android Market has over 250,000 apps¹. But when exactly is too much, too much? Smartphones and their featured app markets have allowed us to do practically anything - shop online, download music, listen to music, send emails, play games, and banking. Apps are so diverse that they can virtually impact every facet of our lives. In an interview with NPR, Brian X. Chen is able to step back from all the hype and examine the societal implications of what he calls the "anything-anytime-anywhere future" - a future that obsesses over multi-tasking devices, like smartphones¹. Here are some important points Chen makes in his interview:
  • "Data has become so intimately women into our lives that it's enhancing the way we engage with physical reality."¹
  • "The physical and digital worlds are coalescing to turn us into all-knowing, always-connected beings."¹
  • "Soon, manufacturers will no longer be able to sell single-function gadgets lacking an Internet connection because those gadgets will become obsolete."¹
  • Many companies and industries find themselves threatened because an app can easily replace single-use products.¹
  • "Inevitably, the more people immerse their personal lives into digital media, the more privacy we give up. Businesses are already making apps that have more information about our personal lives than ever before."¹
  • The Apple company's single point of control over the digital world is threatening creative freedom and fostering conformity.¹
  • TV makers and car companies are marketing app store features - "all with the common goal of trapping consumers inside their product lines."¹
  • In the future, "smartphones will enable us to do more than they ever have before, but there are consequences, such as censorship, digital conformity, and loss of freedom and privacy."¹
Changing Social Norms

Email

Our obsession with smartphones is altering social norms. Take emails, for example. For the growing American population, "the social expectation is that one is nearly always connected and reachable almost instantly via e-mail" if they own a smartphone.² Analysts say the smartphone "is the instrument of that connectedness - and thus worth the cost, as both a communications tool and a status symbol."² Because of this, the current social norm is that people should reply to emails immediately, or at least within a few hours. Now that one in five Americans own a smartphone, according to a 2010 report by Forrester Research, "gone are the days when you could wait a full day to reply to an e-mail, or respond to a text message on a several-hour delay, without violating new and rapidly evolving social norms."³

Public Venues and Work Holidays

New social norms also include becoming tolerant of disrespectful behaviorJames Thickett, the director of research for Ofcom of the UK, said the high level of smartphone use in venues such as the movies "raises an issue about social etiquette and modern manners and the degree to which we as a society are tolerant of this behavior."⁴ Thickett shares many of his findings regarding the smartphone's impact on society:
  • Teenagers have always been more likely to use mobile phones in cinemas, but what Thickett is finding now is that for smartphone users, it is much, much higher, and the same goes for adult smartphone users as well. "So it is not just about adults and teenagers having different values, it is about technology driving the values towards the way you behave in social situations."⁴ 
  • Smartphones have also altered the work-life balance, with one in four users saying that they would take work-related phone calls while on holiday, compared with just 16 percent of regular mobile phone users.
  • Ofcom's Communications Market Report found that nearly two thirds of teenagers were "highly addicted" to smartphones, with half admitting using them in the bathroom.
  • One third of teenagers said they were likely to use a smartphone during meals, while four in 10 said they answered their phone if it woke them at night.
  • The phones have also significantly affected how people use leisure time. Almost a quarter of teenagers said they watch less television due to having a smartphone, while 15 percent say that they read fewer books because of it.
  • "The rapid growth in the use of smartphones is changing the way that many of us, particularly teenagers, act in social situations."

Relationships

Surveys also show that smartphones are having a negative effect on marriage and relationships. In a 2010 NPR Facebook query, many couples complained of equal phone overuse from both genders, which marriage therapists also agree to.⁵ Also, because these addictive devices create such a distraction, they are taking couples away from what matters most: trust, intimacy, and simple time spent together. Many couple are now choosing to designate a "technology-free hour, evening or day to make time for old-fashioned conversation" and to remind each other there are other things to do beside stare at a smartphone screen.⁵ 



Footnotes

¹ "What It Means To Be 'Always On' A Smartphone" http://www.npr.org/2011/07/14/137472487/what-it-means-to-be-always-on-a-smartphone
² "Smartphone's Rapid Rise From Gadget To Tool To Necessity" http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/10/technology/10phone.html?scp=1&sq=smartphone%20society&st=cse
³ "Smartphones: Our national obsession" http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/mobile/10/18/smartphone.everywhere/index.html?iphoneemail
⁴ "Curse of the smartphone...and adults are as guilty as children" http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/mobile-phones/8680613/Smartphone-addiction-adults-are-as-guilty-as-children.html

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