Remember when the original iPhone released in 2007? Apple’s first foray into communication devices shook the industry with a high quality screen, a nice interface, and a sleek form factor (#datrectangle) in a single device. More importantly, Apple laid the foundation for a platform for years to come. They and almost every major competitor would use this framework as their baseline for phones in the ensuing decade. For better or for worse, the iPhone became the golden standard, the singular metric all other phones would be judged against. Everything said so far comes from the lips of an Apple denier – – I dislike the company as a whole and have never owned a single product of theirs. Even with my track record being what it is, I can’t deny the behemoth known as the iPhone 1.
Phones were cool before the original iPhone. The iPhone was cool. What it managed to do that no other telephone before it did was actively make it uncool to use any other portable gadget. I sort of noticed it back then — The people who had the fancy phones no longer needed a PDA or MP3 Player; the people who didn’t have one followed suit for no apparent reason, despite their continued need for such devices. I remember the slight tinge of embarrassment I felt bringing my Nintendo DS to high school back in 2006-2007. “You know… the iPhone plays games, and they’re cheaper!” For me, having to explain how phone games differ from the ones on dedicated platforms is akin to explaining why filling in a coloring book isn’t quite the same thing as painting. Regardless, any argument I could present at the time wasn’t strong enough to convince others that my childish looking DS was worth toting around.
The recently deceased Match 3 podcast housed an interesting conversation about bullying — One of the hosts, a teacher, pointed out that phones had managed to create a rift in the confines of his classroom. He said that, at times, children divided themselves into the haves and the have not — The premium phones, and the sub $500 phones. Kids were teased for not having the newest, latest, and greatest model of a device that none of them have the means to afford on their own. Congratulations, America — We managed to devise classism through phones and allowed it to spread all the way down to children.
Despite being one of the most sought after devices on the planet, despite the fervor to derive some of our self-worth from the one we own, smart phones haven’t actually changed that much recently. 99% of the market runs one of two operating systems, iOS or Android. Despite some phones having newer versions of the OS, the versions run the same for the most part. The hardware upgrades for performance are nice, but only a handful of apps we use on a day-to-day basis draw enough of that power to make it noticeable. Feature wise, almost every smart phone created in the past four to five years has the following: front camera, rear camera, HD screen, some internal storage, headphone jack (oh wait!), one or zero physical buttons, gyroscopic (tilt) functionality, WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS. Cells are the king of multiple domains, all-in-one devices that serve our current need. They reign as the Swiss Army Knife of tech, but aside from a couple neat engravings, the next is identical to the last. There have been a number of videos where reporters have gone to launch events for the new iPhone, asking people in line “why” they’re buying the device, and (for a brief, genuine moment) you see the human being inside of the consumer exit his or her shell — You see it in their eyes, “What am I doing here, again?!” Then, as if it was a gentle breeze passing by, the moment of insight fades away and the person defaults back to the consumer persona. It begs the question — why do many of us drop hundreds on a new one every year?
Status, notoriety, and capitalism — This isn’t the cynical leftist in my speaking, it’s the observer. The current status quo of culture enkindles our narcissistic tendencies. Mine emerges through this blog and the digital art I work on. For most everyone else, it comes through photos. Social Media skews in favor of visual cues over textual ones, so it’s logical to have a device that embodies exactly that. Phones just so happen to be the easiest conduit for capturing content at a moment’s notice. At the end of the day, we are all content producers, desperate to get others to become our audience. With a smart phone, every moment of your life becomes potential content. If you don’t have the newest phone, you’re not capturing your life at its fullest, or so we’ve been lead to believe…
Sometimes there happens to be a more valiant reason to upgrade phones. Sometimes we’re clumsy and break them. Sometimes we run out of space and there’s no way to expand. Sometimes, a legitimate change to phones does come around that justifies upgrading. Stuff happens. I’m not telling you how to spend your money, just proposing there may be better avenues to invest your hard earned cash than a yearly upgrade to your cell. Consider waiting a little longer the next time the urge to upgrade rolls around.