FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Supercomputer in your pocket

For the roughly 20,000 years in which humans have lived in anything resembling civilization, it was magic. Heck, it was magic just 20 years ago. A sliver of metal with a light-up front, that responds to your voice and your gentlest touch, capable of accessing every publicly available piece of information in the world. It still seems like science fiction.

The rise of nomophobia

Yet, it’s so much part of our lives that we get anxious when it’s not with us. The term “nomophobia” was coined about a decade ago. It describes that particular feeling when you know your phone is at home. It’s not used much anymore because who actually leaves their phone at home?

When I say phone, I am talking of course about the smartphone, which is more than anything else the physical manifestation of the internet. I believe that the internet is definitely in the top 3 inventions of all time (the other two being the wheel and fire) and that may actually be understating its importance. The internet itself was amazing when it started to grow, but the moment when it became so important was the moment when we as a culture started carrying it, essentially, in our pockets.

I love this photo

I am constantly amazed by a smartphone and what it does. You’ve probably seen this image, showing just a few of the things replaced by your smartphone:

This is an actual image from the late 1980s, intended to show how far we’d come. Little did we know how we’d laugh at it a few decades later.

But I would argue that the smartphone has become more than just a replacement for the hardware in our lives, it’s well on the way to becoming an essential part of our cognitive processes. It is our collective memory, the lens through which we exist in a global community. The magic of the smartphone isn’t how it replaces a camera or Walkman, it’s how it enhances our brains, freeing us to focus on the moment without being hindered by the need to go somewhere to learn something. It allows us to act on our impulses, for good or bad, without having to carve out hours, days or weeks to consider all the options.

Portal to a new world

The smartphone itself, obviously, is little more than a doorway. It doesn’t contain the entire internet, a fact which we tend to remember rather embarrassingly when we find ourselves without a cellular data connection. It’s only the device which shows us the internet. The real internet is literally millions of miles of cable and hundreds of thousands of watts of broadcast signal and tons of iron and silicon and copper. We don’t think much about that, we just think of the tiny window to that world that sits in our pockets.

In the past, I did a lot of traveling. Like you, I also had a long stretch of telecommuting. In both times I would often find myself looking out the window. I would start thinking about what the world could be like for a tech professional like me. It would be a different world to be sure. Imagine if my only perspective, my only point of contact, was the people around me. If I had to rely on the mail or face-to-face contact, I wouldn’t be here. Solid Signal wouldn’t exist and I think we can all agree, that would be a real shame.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.