The iPhone turns 10

November 13th, 2017

The iPhone debut

On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs took the stage at the Macworld conference in San Francisco to announce three revolutionary new products: a phone, a wide-screen iPod music player and an Internet communicator. As he waxed poetically about each one of these products, he gradually built to his main point. He wasn’t introducing three new products but rather one, and it would be known as the iPhone. If you want to see the presentation itself, you can take out your smartphone, go to YouTube, and find it in a matter of seconds, something few could imagine doing 11 years ago.

On June 29, 2007, the iPhone was released, and the smartphone revolution began. It should be noted that Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, and there were other products on the market already when it was released. Instead, the iPhone brought the idea of the smartphone into the wider public consciousness.

Fittingly, Apple released the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus in September to celebrate the 10th anniversary. Prior to its release, the Internet was awash in rumor about possible names for the new product and its specifications. Some may argue that it’s not the best smartphone available, and sometimes those arguments are heated; but regardless, the iPhone serves as a tangible symbol for the way our lives, our society and our very way of thinking have changed in only a decade.

How the iPhone has changed the world

The most obvious change the smartphone revolution has brought to our world is constant connection. “We are always on,” is the way that reporter Shara Tibken puts it in her list of “10 Ways the iPhone Changed Everything.” The siren song of the constant contact reaches out to us, beckons us and claims our attention all day and into the night.

When cell phones first became popular during the 1990s, many people simply kept them in the car for emergency use. However, with the introduction of smartphones, we’ve been granted access that was never dreamed of in earlier decades. Information is literally at our fingertips for both frivolous and serious purposes.

To date, Apple has sold more than 1.2 billion iPhones, and that’s still only a portion of the smartphone market. Smartphones can be found everywhere, even in places where there’s no reliable source of electricity. The spread of the smartphone has affected virtually every human being in some way or another, whether directly or indirectly.

The iPhone’s camera, along with the more recently added ability to record video, has helped us to document our lives in a way that only avid photographers or journalists would have been able to do in previous generations. Now, any video can be streamed live, whether a cute clip of a kitten or a criminal act in progress. These ever-present cameras have helped tell previously untold stories from the midst of volatile situations, especially when journalists aren’t present or, in some cases, even allowed access.

With the introduction of various applications over the years, the smartphone has also led to significant changes in the way we do a number of daily activities. Everything from looking up directions to listening to music to paying for purchases is now done from our phones. The list of changes stemming from smartphones could be endless.

How smartphones are changing a generation

In The Atlantic magazine, Jean M. Twenge, a social scientist who has studied generational trends for 25 years, sounds an alarm about the youngest generation and their relationship with smartphones. This generation coming up behind the millennials, which Twenge calls “iGen,” is vastly different from its predecessors in quite a few ways.

In about 2012, Twenge began to notice surprising trends in her research. In studies of generations going back to the 1930s, there would normally be a continuation of trends begun in previous generations. However, when looking at line graphs comparing iGen to the millennial generation that preceded it, the expected gentle slopes were replaced with steep mountains and sheer cliffs. The distinctive characteristics of the millennial generation began to disappear entirely.

The members of iGen were young adolescents when the iPhone was introduced and have been accustomed to having a smartphone from an early age. According to Twenge’s analysis, they’re physically safer than previous generations and are also less prone to early sexual activity, alcohol use and early pregnancy. However, these positive trends are combined with negative trends that result in this generation being less independent, less likely to seek a job and more prone to feeling “left out” and believing that they have few good friends. Members of iGen are also more prone to depression and more likely to commit suicide than previous generations. It would appear, she concludes, that this generation is collectively living out their lives at home on their phones.

After analyzing the data, studying the trends, and talking to members of iGen, Twenge wrote, “The twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives — and making them seriously unhappy.”

Of course, these are only early findings about a generation that has yet to reach adulthood, and much can change in the coming years. Additionally, many of the negative behaviors related to smartphone use aren’t exclusive to the members of iGen. 

Living smart with the smartphone

Since the development of the smartphone is a relatively new occurrence in the scope of human history, we’re still learning how to use them, how to live with them and what problems they may create for us. The question for us becomes, How can we use our smartphones in a way that stays true to our Christian faith? Here are a number of tips that can help:

  1. The smartphone is an amazing invention, and it’s changing the world. It is, however, only a tool, not the be-all and end-all of our existence. In the same way that many idolize money and place too much importance on it in their lives, we may place too much emphasis on our smartphones and the opportunities they provide. 
  2. Taking a break from our smartphones (and all devices), what we might call a “digital Sabbath,” can enhance our ability to connect with God and with one another. Perhaps that means a rule where no phones can be used during family dinners or during communal meals, or a set cut-off time after which devices are offlimits. If you get really adventurous, try to go a full day with no smartphones or other connected devices. 
  3. Take note of how much time you actually invest on your phone. Most studies show that people vastly underestimate the amount of time they’re focused on their phones and the number of times they check it. 
  4. It’s always important to remember that the people in front of us, the people with whom we share our lives, should have a greater claim on our attention than our phones. 

Living smart with our smartphones amounts to having good boundaries so that they can enhance our lives without ruling our lives.

Be sure to check out FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups.

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