A Sociology of the Smartphone

For many of us, they are the last thing we look at before sleep each night, and the first thing we reach for upon waking. We use them to meet people, to communicate, to entertain ourselves, and to find our way around. We buy and sell things with them. We rely on them to document the places we go, the things we do and the company we keep; we count on them to fill the dead spaces, the still moments and silences that used to occupy so much of our lives.

For all its ubiquity, though, the smartphone is not a simple thing. We use it so often that we don’t see it clearly; it appeared in our lives so suddenly and totally that the scale and force of the changes it has occasioned have largely receded from conscious awareness. In order to truly take the measure of these changes, we need to take a step or two back, to the very last historical moment in which we negotiated the world without smartphone in hand.

It’s been transformative in many ways, but issues of overuse have gradually created the impression that the smartphone is creating more problems than it is solving. Just look at any dinner table at a restaurant in Taiwan as an example.

One of the more interesting stories coming from the experiences using the new Apple Watch LTE is the freedom of not having a phone with you, with all it’s attention sucking habits. People feel free. With the limited interaction afforded by the Apple Watch, Apple has recreated the basic flip phone of the past, but as jewelry on your wrist.