Less than a decade ago, the smartphone became an indispensable thing in our daily life. Few gadgets have managed to become as ubiquitous.
For many of us, a smartphone is the last thing we see before going to bed, and the first thing we take in our hands when we wake up. We use it to connect with people, communicate, have fun and find the way. We buy and sell things with it. We mark the places where we went, tell about what we are doing. Students use smartphones to translate text, talk to teachers, and much more. As a student, I also preferred to write my paper with the help of online services.
Even though the smartphone is everywhere with us, it is not as simple as it seems. It appeared in our life suddenly and completely changed it. To understand the extent of these changes, we need to take a step back to the moment when we lived in a world without a smartphone in our hands.
In 2006, scientists from Keio University and the People and Practices group of Intel Corporation conducted a study. They identified the things that residents of London, Tokyo, and Los Angeles most often carry in bags, in pockets, and wallets.
Most often, people carried things with them that reminded them of family, friends, and loved ones. Things of religious significance, food for a snack, personal hygiene items, chewing gum. Many also had keys, ID cards, and travel tickets.
At the time of the study, the mobile phone was used only to call someone or send a text message. And, of course, everyone had money in their pockets.
Now we can say that the smartphone has replaced many of these things for us. Photos of relatives, tickets, passport scans -all this is placed in a mobile phone. This single platform has absorbed most of the other things that people once carried in their pockets and wallets.
Most obviously, the smartphone has replaced conventional phones, which has led to the disappearance of telephone booths from the streets. And those that remained are now used, rather, as a place for advertising.
The smartphone has replaced the players, the radio, all the portable means that we used to access news and entertainment. Perhaps shortly, it will be able to displace ordinary watches (by the way, do you still wear a wristwatch or set an alarm clock?), calendars, notebooks, and books. Tickets and travel cards are also on the way of disappearance, and with them, possibly, various keys. Passports and driver’s licenses still manage to resist the onslaught of smartphones. But who knows how long it will last.
As you can see, out of the many things that people had to carry in their pockets 12 years ago, only chewing gum, food, and lip balm remained the same.
I want to find out: has this new life become better or worse?
Of course, time flows around the world at different speeds. Some of us still prefer to communicate with the cashier in a store, but the fact that the smartphone has replaced many processes indicates a trend towards dematerialization. Therefore, when we see telephone booths and other things from the past, we feel puzzled or surprised.
No matter how clumsy they may seem, it is important for us now that each of these things implies a whole way of life – an interconnected ecosystem of trade, practice, and experience. And since we replaced these” ecosystems ” with new ones (built based on a smartphone), the structure of everyday life could not but change. Many processes fit into a single device, removing many processes from our life.
Now you rarely see anyone near the newsstand, a person on the road who catches a taxi, or a lover who is excitedly waiting for his girlfriend, looking at the watch on his hand. What is the need for any of these urban rituals now?
We very much doubt that we would have allowed the smartphone to displace so many other objects and rituals in our lives if we had not come to terms with some advantages. But several negative circumstances arise as a result of this choice.
Firstly, the decisions that we make in everyday life are now connected with a completely different set of people than it was 10 years ago. In addition to many applications, we have let shadow hackers, technical standards bodies, regulators at the national and supranational level into the depths of our lives. Now the performance of everyday things depends on many factors that were previously not even familiar to us.
Secondly, all the decisions that we make are now developing at a faster pace. We are forced to make some changes to the smartphone every time the latest version of the device, operating system, or application is released.
And third, and perhaps the most curious of all. We use the smartphone to take new selfies, listen to music or find a guy for the night. The smartphone remembers our requests and offers us new, similar options, we grab them and can’t choose any.
The smartphone combines many processes and functions and is an incredible technical tool. It can unite billions of people, which in itself seems even utopian.
But behind each phone, there is another story: about labor agreements, supply chains, and capital flows, which we enter from the moment of purchase, even to the moment when we turned on the smartphone for the first time.
Before you got your desired smartphone, it was probably made in one of the cities of the USA, China, or Korea. These factories operate in terrible conditions. People have to work for many hours, they repeat the same work every day, injuries occur at work, and workers are exposed to toxic chemicals. Wages are low, and the suicide rate among workers is extremely high. The low labor cost of Chinese workers is due to their lack of ability to challenge these conditions. But in this regard, manufacturers can supply cheaper phones to the market. And if the Chinese salary somehow begins to approach Western standards, then manufacturers will start looking for more suitable places to assemble their devices.
Let’s take another step forward in the production process, and the picture will be even more gloomy. To function, a smartphone, like any electronic device, requires raw materials that are torn out of the Ground. Cobalt, which is used in the production of batteries, is mined manually in the Congo, often by children; tin in soldered seams most likely comes from the Indonesian island of Banka, where the groundwater is heavily polluted; 70% of coral reefs are destroyed by sewage, and on average one miner per week dies at work.
Polluted streams, stillborn children, and cancer are other changes that the smartphone has made in our lives.
The smartphone is unlike any other product and is actually among the most rapidly adopted technologies in the history of mankind. Therefore, we do not pay attention to how it affects our lives, to the problems that may arise in factories, to the environmental consequences.
Even knowing the background of the creation of a smartphone, realizing all the consequences, we still save money and go to the store for a new smartphone.
We live in an era when everyone is connected to the global network at any time. A book could be written about how smartphones affect our lives. For example, about how the constant flow of information affects our nervous state, or about how the camera has turned us all into avid Instagrammers (we can’t even have breakfast in peace).
If earlier, to explore an unfamiliar city, it was necessary to carry a map with you and build routes on it, now everything has become easier. Everyone has a free, scalable, self-updating, high-resolution map of every part of the Earth in their smartphone, and this in itself is an epoch-making development.
In our time, the first maps in the history of mankind have appeared that follow our movements and tell us where we are on them in real-time. They help us get rid of the fear that prevents many of us from exploring unfamiliar paths or areas.
But using maps for navigation, we become dependent on internet access. Just think about the moment when you are walking through the streets of Paris and suddenly find that the network has broken. Then it becomes clear that everyday life, mediated by a smartphone, depends on more complex processes that we usually do not notice.