For it’s 10 year anniversary, I think it’s appropriate to take a look back at how the iPhone came into our lives one summer day and drastically changed not only the way we communicate with people, but how it has affected social behavior and the nature of communication technology as a whole.
Apple introduced the iPhone into our lives in 2007 and little did we know, how dramatically it would changes our lives; for better or for worse. When it was first released to the market, there were no other phones quite like it– the iPhone had a built in flash memory, a 3.5inch touchscreen, and a single home button. But aside from that, it didn’t necessarily have features that were unseen in the world of mobile phones. With each new release, the iPhone didn’t create any new technology per se and we know this because during Apple’s keynote event every fall, its speakers love to talk about a newand revolutionary feature available on the iPhone, as if it weren’t already available on an Android phone three updates ago. The iPhone wasn’t even the true pioneer of the concept of a smartphone. The first released smartphone according to Business Insider was the Simon Personal Communicator created by IBM. Despite this, more and more people around the world continue to grow not only an affinity, but also a dependency and loyalty to the iPhone. Suddenly, other companies that once dominated the mobile phone industry found it hard to find a seat at the table.
What makes the iPhone so successful, I believe is the Apple app store which opened the doors to a whole new way of living for us. Apple needed apps for the iPhone to become versatile, useful, and the ultimate smartphone, so they provided app developers with all the tools and codes they needed to build iPhone apps. With social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter gaining popularity at around the same time the iPhone garnered popularity, there were all these new toys for people to explore and thanks to app developers, the iPhone became the device that could contain them all.
Social media apps are addictive, just like a bag of chips– once you open it, you can’t stop reaching for it. One moment you have a full bag of Cheetos and ten minutes later, you are left with ⅓ of the bag and a great deal of regret and confusion. People are addicted to social media apps so much so that it has changed the way we communicate, and since people are addicted to social media they are constantly glued to their smartphones. As much as people hate to admit, our smartphones are not just a phone, they have become what some researchers callthe extended self. We treat our smartphones as if it were a person with feelings; when it falls to the ground some of us even say “ouch” or “I’m sorry,” and sometimes we even try to negotiate with it, like bargaining with our smartphones when its at 1% and we need it to stay on just a little longer, as if bargaining would somehow extend the battery life of our phones. Byron Reeves calls this act of treating our media technology as a social actor The Media Equation whereby mediated = real life.
The combination of iPhones or all smartphones in general, with social media apps has led to people’s need to be constantly tethered. Sherry Turkle’s Always On/Always-On-You: The Tethered Self, outlined people’s needs to be constantly tethered– the fact that people are always expected to be reachable and have a fear of not being able to be reached by others. With that, it has changed the dynamics of social behavior and conduct whereby we can’t seem to put our phones down even in the company of other people. It has become almost impossible for us to truly take a vacation because our work follows along with us, in our pocket, and so does the rest of the world. Before smartphones came into our lives and we used mobilephones, people didn’t treat their phones like an extended self, we didn’t feel anxious and uneasy if our phones weren’t at an arm’s reach away.
In times of crisis, people don’t even call each other to let the other know they are safe anymore. This reassuring is now almost always done over text or through social media. Facebook recently added an “I’m safe” feature, which lets you know that you’re safe with a click of a button. I first came across this feature when there was a horrible flood while I was living in Lafayette, LA. When I went on Facebook, it prompted me to let my friends and family know that I was safe. This brings up an irony of how people constantly crave to be connected to others but at the same time, are unwilling to make the effort to actually communicate with others. Maybe unwilling is a harsh word, but I think this highlights how social media has changed the way we interact with those around us. People hardly make phone calls, unless they need an instant response. Think about it, when was the last time you called someone over the phone to catch up? Communication has become lesser and lesser about using our voices, but more so on using communication tools like social media to speak for us.
A current example of this is the #MeToo campaign that is going around Twitter in light of the sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein. The campaign has encouraged people to tweet and publicize their experiences of being sexually assaulted or harassed to create awareness that it is a problem that many people experience, and to also highlight the misogynistic behavior of our society. The issue of sexual violence is not a new, but with more and more people talking about this, activist, writer, and creator of the #MeToo, Tarana Burke hopes that this will lead to changes in the system. Social media is no longer just a forum for us to tell our friends “I’m so high” or share photos of what we had for lunch, but has also taken on the role of facilitating greater change for our future. If we didn’t have our iPhones, it is not to say that such change would be impossible, but it certainly would take a much longer time. If people were to be called on to write their stories and send them to The New York Times, this revolution might not even take place. There are too many steps involved– from writing and editing, getting stamps, going to the post office, a New York Times editor checking the relevance of the story shared, to carving out a space on the newspaper to fit all these stories. The NYT probably might not even publish all the stories that get submitted because who wants to end up with a 100-page newspaper?
Gilbert, Sophie. “The Movement of #MeToo.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 16 Oct. 2017, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/10/the-movement-of-metoo/542979/.
Grinberg, Emanuella. “The next step for #MeToo creator isnt a hashtag.” CNN, Cable News Network, 10 Nov. 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/11/10/us/tarana-burke-metoo-whats-next/index.html.
Price, Rob. “Facebook activates its Safety Check feature again after a deadly bombing in Nigeria.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 18 Nov. 2015, www.businessinsider.com/facebook-activates-safety-check-after-bombing-in-nigeria-paris-attacks-beirut-criticism-2015-11.
Reeves, Byron, and Clifford Nass. How people treat computers, television, and new media like real people and places. CSLI Publications and Cambridge university press, 1996.
Turkle, Sherry. “10 Always-On/Always-On-You: The Tethered Self.” Handbook of mobile
Tweedie, S. “The world’s first smartphone, Simon, was created 15 years before the iPhone.” Opgeroepen op juli 17 (2015): 2015.