An important anniversary passed on Thursday with little mention. Thirteen years ago on that date, Steve Jobs unveiled the first-ever iPhone, which became available to the public roughly six months later.
Maybe 13 isn’t a round number. But for the triskaidekaphobes out there, it’s worth noting that the last baker’s dozen years have been both bad and good, but they were, beyond a shadow of doubt, revolutionized by the little pocket-sized device Jobs first showed the world that day.
If you were to take a random of photo of people in a waiting room or a transit station in 2007, you might see people conversing, reading a book or magazine or simply staring into space. Take that same photo today and you will find nearly everyone looking down at a mobile device.
But that’s just the start. The downside of these ubiquitous devices — which now include several similar products by brands other than Apple — is that they have robbed us of a share of human interaction. They are crutches for those who would rather not interact in social situations. Many people now communicate through texts, and while some find this impersonal form of interaction makes them less vulnerable, it has robbed the culture of a certain richness.
Also, while the iPhone didn’t invent or usher in social media or the anonymous nastiness of online comments (Facebook was founded in 2004), it put social media in every pocket and made possible endless, immediate and often thoughtless commenting.
It has exacerbated texting and driving, a scourge difficult to correct. It has raised privacy concerns. And, of course, we now can be reached anywhere, at any time, for any inane reason.
But the upsides are too numerous to mention. Mobile devices based on Jobs’ template have disrupted countless industries in consumer-friendly ways while leading people to consume less.
One little device now takes the place of a camera (for photos and videos), a record or CD playing device, a library, a map, a radio, a TV and VCR, a wallet, a newspaper and, almost as an afterthought, a telephone and phone book, to name just a few. It also has given us apps that do things we never considered before, such as tracking the exact location of an approaching ride-share, train or other transit vehicle. We can shop for and purchase items worldwide while sitting in an easy chair or walking down the street. We can see the weather at any exact location or have it predicted accurately for us, including with maps of approaching storms. We can travel virtually to any location on earth and zoom to a street-level view in most.
Pictures and videos, of everything from grandchildren to breaking news and unfolding disasters are transmitted worldwide in nanoseconds. Bike rides and jogging runs can be tracked, timed and measured instantly and accurately.
Music used to be confined to a personal collection. Now people can conjure almost any song as fast as the notion enters their minds. We have memes and practical jokes that go “viral.” We have vloggers who earn a living offering obscure takes on things to virtual communities people once never knew existed. Online auction sites let us sell and buy used treasures for much less than at an antique store. And games, games, games.
Many of these things existed before, but putting them in our pockets changed forever how we interact with them. It also made Apple the richest company in the history of the world — bigger than the economies of some nations. Some competitors haven’t done badly, either.
If you want an interesting window into how the world has changed, go to YouTube and watch Jobs’ announcement 13 years ago. Google it on your phone. Pay attention to how the audience reacts to the first mention of things the world now takes for granted.
You may regret many of these changes. You may long for a simpler time. But, like it or not, the world has changed for good.