August 13, 2015
When is a phone not a phone? When it’s a smartphone
In a few years from now, kids are going to have a whole set of new and surprising questions. Imagine a child playing with a smartphone. Some of the icons make sense. There’s the clock, which is for telling the time, and the calendar is obviously an event planner. That little shopping bag icon is for buying things, and the great big ‘F’ against a blue background – well, everyone knows that one. But what’s this strange green icon for making phone calls, the one that has what looks like a tilted smile?* And while we’re on the subject, why do we call it ‘hanging up’?
Like so many other things – the Walkman, the personal organizer, even the good old wristwatch – Smartphones have replaced almost all other types of phone. With employers starting to get rid of voicemail because it’s no longer necessary, and the FCC suggesting that getting rid of your landline is the best way to avoid robo-calls from politicians, even the desk or home phone at work is on borrowed time. But it would be a mistake to think that because it has replaced these other options, we’re all just yakking away on our mobiles. The truth is, we’re talking less than ever before.
It’s not a question of saving money, either. While there are a bewildering array of VOIP messaging apps, regular text messages are still the most popular choice. This is because not everyone has the same configuration of apps, or the same access to WIFI – or even a Smartphone. Text messages are efficient and reliable.
Why is this happening? Are we becoming more antisocial? After all, there have never been more opportunities to talk to people now that people can be gotten hold of just about anywhere at any time. We can even talk face-to-face! But that’s certainly not something I do on a regular basis, and nor does anyone else I know. Perhaps it’s a question of design. Smartphones are designed to be carried, not to be talked into like that old-fashioned receiver. With touchscreen technology dictating everything from phone navigation to dialing, perhaps it just feels more natural to continue using the screen to type a message rather than holding it to your face. Either way, the Smartphone, possibly the most impactful piece of technology in human history, is continuing to change our habits. If we’re not careful, it will even change the way we walk.
* No need to look so smug, text message icon – after all, you look like a handwritten letter, and we haven't seen one of those in forever.