I read an article in The Guardian by Samuel Gibbs about devices once used regularly that were replaced by smartphones. The list is lengthy and includes: simple mobile phones, landline phones, pay phones (the kind available in public places, not “burner” phones), point and shoot cameras, the Walkman, Dictaphones, cheap laptops, portable TV’s, pocket calculators, watches, alarm clocks, and GPS devices. Gibbs predicts the future demise of remote controls, medical equipment, portable gaming machines, wallets, and taxi meters.
The article triggered a flood of memories and thoughts. In my 20’s, I remembered asking my 90-year-old grandfather about the technological changes that occurred in his lifetime (from 1888 to 1983). He spent his youth on a farm without cars, trucks, tractors, radio, or television and during his lifetime, in addition to those inventions, flight advanced from the Wright Brothers to jets, to man journeying to the moon and back. My grandfather responded that the changes occurred over a lifetime and that they only benefited him directly when they became available at a cost he could afford.
Looking back at technology’s impact on me—I used a keypunch machine and card reader to input programs into computers as a student at Duke in the 1970s. Before the end of that decade, I used CRT terminals for computer inputs at grad school and in 1979, bought an Apple II for use at home and at work. My first cellphone was one of those Motorola “bricks” purchased around 1986. I owned and used all of the devices mentioned in the “killed off” list above. I can envision the demise of the other items cited in the articles, since I use my smartphone as a remote (at home); to play games (usually when I’m traveling on a plane); and to summon Uber while traveling. It also tracks my daily exercise through my Fitbit device and app.
In the book, The Second Machine Age, the authors cite the emergence of the smartphone in 2002 as the single event that geometrically accelerated the progress curve on man’s social development. It’s understandable how that happened when you look at all the devices eliminated above and you realize that smartphones are available at increasingly lower prices throughout the world. Linking smartphones through apps to more data points, as part of the growing “Internet of Things,” will undoubtedly increase progress. At the same time, it will create opportunities for individuals with the education and expertise to determine how to best utilize the data. I can’t wait to see what else the smartphone will eliminate before it is replaced by some other new device yet unknown to me.