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.
Yet, it’s so much part of our lives that we get anxious when it’s not with us. 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 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:
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.
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.
When I travel or telecommute, I often find myself looking out the window and thinking about what the world would be like for a tech professional like me 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. SolidSignal wouldn’t exist and I think we can all agree, that would be a real shame.