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I'm a business journalist and a fiction author. My novel Mute is available now from Silver Leaf Books.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Eight ways the iPhone has changed society in 10 years

On June 29, 2007, the day the iPhone first went on sale, it would have been hard for anyone to imagine the monumental impact the device has had on society, even now-late Apple CEO Steven Jobs.

Ushering in the smart phone era has changed the way people interact, and perhaps even re-wired the brain. It has played a part in everything from love to war to politics to crime.

This won’t be the only blog today list on the 10-year anniversary of the iPhone, so I’ll keep with the theme of my latest novel and focus on the way these pocket-sized computers have transformed social interaction. Why am I listing eight ways instead of 10? Because in the age of mobile news, who has the patience to scroll down a 10-point list?

No more privacy in public

I hear a lot of prior generation athletes talk about the wild times they had on the road, partying and drinking and saying outrageous things in bars. Rarely did any of the details come to light, and when they did, it was based on memories, not proof.

Now, anytime something remotely controversial happens, it’s often captured on a camera phone. If there’s a pro athlete or celebrity involved, that’s almost a certainty. So people can’t simply mouth off without consequences.

The language of emojis

The emoji was created in 1998, but it didn’t take off as an common part of language until the smart phone. Text messaging, Facebook and Twitter are arts of the written word. Emojis says things that words can’t quite say, or they emphasize the meaning of sentences.

Unlike words, emojis can’t be translated into vocal language. There’s also unregulated and unlimited. No 26 characters here.

I’m still waiting for the first all emoji novel.

Constantly plugged in

People used to access the internet mostly at home or in the workplace on a desktop computer, or on a bulky laptop at a rare WiFi hot spot. Now the vast majority of the country has wireless internet access through a cellular network, and websites have been configured for mobile views, which is the fastest growing segment of traffic.

The good news is people can work and stay plugged into information remotely. No more sneaking out of the wedding to check the score on the TV at the bar. There’s no reason to drive around looking for a restaurant or a gas station.

The bad news is work has become inescapable. No matter where you go, people can email you and text you. People with important responsibilities are expected to respond no matter what. So it’s harder to truly unplug.

Instant information

I started journalism in college, writing for the Miami Hurricane student newspaper and then as an intern at the St. Augustine Record in 1999. There’s been a huge change in the expectations for news delivery over the years, especially since the smart phone era began.

People used to receive a brief overview of the day’s news during the evening telecast, and then a more detailed analysis in the next morning’s paper. Now, not only is the morning paper full of old news, so is the evening telecast. First people expected websites with stories updated regularly, hopefully within an hour of breaking news. That’s no longer good enough. With mobile phones in hand, people scroll Twitter and Facebook for instance news - reports within seconds of events, or even live streaming video.

Social media works so fast that some traditional news sites simply embed a social media feed about an event instead of writing a story (which I find highly annoying).

The drawback here is accuracy. The faster a reporter works, the easier it is to make mistakes. It can take time to verify information, but the pressure of instant news doesn’t allow for any delays.

Forever documenting the moment

Having a camera phone at all times allows people to capture every moment of their lives, but is capturing the moment the same as living in the moment?

At concerts and sporting events, especially in Miami, a huge amount of people are on their phones. Are they truly engaged in the action? Or are they trying to create a video to shows off to their jealous friends? A football games, some people are so distracted by their fantasy football league that they aren’t into the game in front of them.

Entertainment is personal

A decade ago, most home entertainment was spent in front of the TV screen or video game console. A family might be watching the same show on one set so they could share their experiences, or some family members might segment into different rooms to view their favorite programs.

Now, the TV is no longer king. Nielsen says that TV viewing by 18-24-year-olds has declined 39 percent since 2011. It also fell sharply in the 25-34 age group. That’s because millennials are spending more times on smartphones than watching TV.

So now family members can sit in the same room, and all be occupied by their individual devices - watching shows, playing games, surfing the web. They are together physically, not socially.

Shopping assistant

The smart phone has made it easier than ever to buy things no matter where you are. That’s great for the sake of convenience, no more trips to the store for one thing - as long as you can wait a day or two.

For compulsive shoppers, that means there’s no escape.

Redefining intelligence

In my high school and college years, certain classes focused on memorization. If you could memorize historical or scientific facts, etc, then you were smart. Even today, many game shows center around memorizing and repeating facts.

Under that definition of intelligence, anyone with a working smart phone is a genius. They can pull up any historical information, scientific fact, pop culture reference, spell perfectly, master geography, and solve the most common math problems. What’s the point of memorizing all of that when the information is one second away in a pocket-sized device? And why are many classes still structured as if smart phones were never invented?

So what’s it mean now to be smart. Perhaps the new intelligence means the ability to separate real information from fake news.