You Are Not A Beautiful Snowflake: Five Years of the iPhone

My roommate has a subscription to Bloomberg Businessweek and I love it. I read it before he does, which probably annoys him, but he’ll be ok. In last week’s issue, the iPhone’s fifth birthday was discussed.  Here is one quote that caught my attention.

“The iPhone has changed everything about how we relate to technology, for both good and bad,” says Larry Rosen, a psychologist, professor, and author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us. According to his research, nearly 30 percent of people born after 1980 feel anxious if they can’t check Facebook (FB)every few minutes. Others repeatedly pat their pockets to make sure their smartphone is still there. Indulging those tiny, persistent urges brings us only a brief respite. “The relief is not pleasurable,” says Rosen. “That’s the sign of an obsession.”

Here’s another.

The latest iPhone-inspired cottage industry has nothing to do with old-timey photo filters but books that examine the device’s biological and societal impact. In addition to Rosen’s iDisorder, there’s Gregory Jantz’s #Hooked: The Pitfalls of Media, Technology, and Social Networking and James Steyer’s Talking Back to Facebook. While much of these authors’ concern focuses on social media, the smartphone is what lets people stay constantly connected. “The great thing about the iPhone is that we carry it with us all day long,” says Rosen. “The bad part is that we carry it with us all day long.”

It’s important to discuss the iPhone because it heralded the Smartphone era.  What the iPhone did, other phones did.  Even though I got email on my Samsung Jack well before the iPhone existed, once the iPhone came out, having email on a phone was suddenly mandatory. Even though Smartphone addiction was studied and criticized when the Blackberry was on the top of the heap, the iPhone allowed the addiction to not only be accepted but made the addiction worse.  You used to check your phone for messages. Not you can check your phone for everything, the whole of the universe.  So many of my friends gave me untold amount of shit for having a smartphone. They changed, however, when they bought an iPhone. Now I’m damned for not having an iPhone.  How can I be above a technological curve and then be under it in five years? And how does the same sort of peer pressure that I dealt with in grade school (Buy Reeboks) still affect me now? I’m 35.

I’ve written before about “Creative Destruction” and how new advances destroy old advances. The market has to destroy to make room for the creation of something new. The iPhone destroyed the Blackberry market.  For all intents and purposes, the Blackberry market is dead. Horribly killed.  This is a victory for the iPhone. It’s a tragedy for anyone who doesn’t want an iPhone.  Am I a Luddite because I want a physical keyboard?  How can I be “old school” when I own a phone that has more computing power than the computers used in the 90s? What’s worse, the resulting conversation about my love for my Blackberry is insane.  It sounds like this.

“You should get an iPhone!”

“I don’t like touchscreens!”

“You’ll get used to it!”

“I don’t want to!”

“Change is good!”

Sometime this week, the Supreme Court might decide whether the Affordable Care Act is constitutional or not.  That’s important.  Gay marriage was made completely illegal in North Carolina last month.  That’s important.  If the Keystone Pipeline is built, climate scientists believe it’s “game over” for the planet. That’s important.  Syria is basically in a civil war right now with scores of civilians being killed.  That’s important.  I don’t want to have an iPhone.  That isn’t important.

I’m not saying that I am more enlightened because I don’t want to own an iPhone. I’m saying that I, just like everyone else, am whistling past the graveyard.  My consumption choices are as important as the consumption choices of a 15 year-old girl. Which means, yes, they aren’t important at all.  Somehow, by way of smart advertising and some weird voodoo magic, corporations have gained the ability to make people feel guilt when they don’t buy something. Blackberry did it.  Microsoft did it. Apple did it. The guy who made Angry Birds did it.  We are nothing but digits on a screen and money in a bank. And we are willfully so, because being anything else takes actually effort.  No, I’m not better than you. I’m, sadly, one of you, and I lose sleep at night because of it.

Ahhh.  Ok.  I feel better.

That’s a lot to read.  If you want a shorted version of this post, just click here.

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8 thoughts on “You Are Not A Beautiful Snowflake: Five Years of the iPhone

  1. Well said.

    There’s an important distinction between addiction/obsession and usefulness though. I use my iPhone as a tool for work (email, remote control, etc) that allows me the freedom to be away from an office and still get my work done. I use my iPhone as a tool creatively, for recording and playing music and for taking photos and videos, I use my iPhone as a tool to read, relax and entertain. Could I do that with other things? Sure. I could use a laptop for work, mixdeck / cd player for music endeavors, cameras, e-readers or (gasp) an actual book. Then I’d have to carry all that crap around anytime I want to engage in those activities. Do I need to have an iPhone to do that stuff? No, I don’t, it just happens to be the tool that I have at my disposal. Do I feel better about myself because I have an iPhone? Not really – as long as it works and works well, I could care less who makes the device or if it has achieved fanboi status or not. Note: full disclosure, we are a multi-smartphone household – my wife sports an Android phone, and I have one as well for development work 😀

    • I think you are the type of person that should own an iPhone. I’m not. I think I’m more annoyed that I have to defend my choices, especially when my choices really don’t matter and no one should care.

      • Your point is entirely valid. @xwordy and I used to have this debate many years ago when we were fanboys firmly entrenched on opposing sides in the Windows v. Macintosh debates. Then we gained wisdom, I guess, and decided that one should strive to use the best tool for their purposes, and the rest doesn’t matter. In your case, you’re right – if you don’t want an iPhone, you shouldn’t have to defend your choice, unless someone straight up asks for an opinion, and in that case it’s not really a defense is it?

    • It’s supposed to mean that you are being casual and relaxed even though there is something bad happening. Sort of like, lalallalaala, nothing going on here….

      • I dig. That’s exactly what it sounds like. I’m going to see if I can work it into dinner conversation, test it out 🙂

  2. hahaha! i can’t really top that one. i’ll just try using ‘shut up’ at the dinner table first, then ease into my new phrase

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