Ten years ago this week, the world changed forever.
29 June, 2007. The release date of the first iPhone.
Who even remembers what life was like before? Before we had constant access to a camera, gps, google, and the ability to reach out instantly to almost everyone we have ever met.
It brings to mind Peter Drucker’s quote about transformational social change, and how, once it happens,
“the people born into that world cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born.”
There have been major technological changes throughout history that have fundamentally shifted the way we think about ourselves and society, and the way we communicate with and function in relation to others.
The printing press.
The invention of the internet, and the associated introduction of the smartphone – especially the iPhone – is one such change.
And with any such massive shift in how we think and communicate, there are inherent risks and possibilities. As those still close enough to the change, we have a unique opportunity.
In ‘The End of Absence’, Michael Harris raises an intriguing point –
“Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the Internet. What does this unavoidable fact mean?… we have in this brief historical moment, this moment in between two modes of being, a very rare opportunity. For those of us who have lived both with and without the vast, crowded connectivity the Internet provides, these are the few days when we can still notice the difference between Before and After…
This is the moment. Our awareness of this singular position pops up every now and again. We catch ourselves idly reaching for our phones at the bus stop. Or we notice how, midconversation, a fumbling friend dives into the perfect recall of Google. We can still catch ourselves. We say, Wait…”
This singular positioning grants us a powerful gift. We are, in a way that future generations can never be, equipped to identify and maximise the positives, and minimise the negatives, of our world of ubiquitous iPhones (or their equivalents) – because we have a point of reference. We have a ‘before’. We have a baseline for comparison.
What a gift we can give to our own lives and relationships, as well as to those coming after us, if we are deliberate in considering and living out those possibilities.
In order to do this, however – in order to seize the potential of our unique positioning to the technology of the iPhone and its equivalents in their still-infant yet already world-changing power, we must grapple with an uncomfortable truth.
We are not in control.
Not really. Not completely.
Think about it in comparison to consuming media. Imagine that for a month, you filled your days with music that glorified violence, horror movies and hate-filled message boards. It would have an effect. You probably wouldn’t feel light and joyful, filled with optimism about the world and its inhabitants.
Imagine that instead, an alternate you filled that same time with classical music, biopics of amazing change-makers, and inspiring self-improvement books.
Imagine these alternate paths unfolding for a year, a decade, a lifetime – of course it would begin to steer your personality, thinking, relationships and life in a certain direction. None of this is hard to imagine.
The technologies we use to engage with the world and shape our thinking and communication likewise have an effect. As much as we like to think it is merely a tool, serving our needs, we too are shaped by it; impacted by its unspoken priorities and processes.
Nicholas Carr puts it like this –
“In the end, we come to pretend that the technology itself doesn’t matter. It’s how we use it that matters, we tell ourselves. The implication, comforting in its hubris, is that we’re in control. The technology is just a tool, inert until we pick it up and inert again once we set it aside…”
It’s comforting, and it’s untrue.
We are different, as individuals and as a society, a decade into our relationships with our iPhones. And that’s not inherently good or bad. It’s just true.
Let’s not shrink from that reality – let’s gather up all our agency and lean into it.
Let’s have the courage to see and name the negatives, and then to counter them in positive ways. Let’s rejoice in and maximise the benefits, and be those who make sure they are increasingly available to all.
Here are 10 ways you can mark the 10 year anniversary of the iPhone in ways that deliberately shape a better world for yourself and others:
1 – Empathy
Studies are showing noticeable declines in empathy in emerging generations, with significant links to the use of technology. Let’s be those who actively choose to nurture this essential trait. Try cultivating the habit of listening well – of seeking first to understand, rather than be understood. Reading literary fiction with well-written, layered characters is another demonstrated means of nurturing empathy.
2 – Diversity
The confirmation bubble phenomenon of the internet is how we end up with the red feed vs. blue feed effect, an echo chamber of people similar to us scrolling down our iPhone screen. So pay attention to the most common voices in your world, and to which ones are missing. Then think about how you can pay more attention to different voices and different experiences, whether that’s in the perspectives you’re reading, or the people on your team.
3 – Connection
The technology of the iPhone and its ilk have given us a tremendous gift when it comes to making and strengthening connections. Why not think of someone you care about that you haven’t caught up with in a while, and reach out to them to make a time to connect and catch-up, whether that’s over a coffee table or over Skype. Then, when you do meet up, make the most of it by putting your phone away.
4 – Kindness
I stayed with some friends recently who had a wonderful prompt on their fridge. It read,
“Before you speak, ask yourself –
Is it true?
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?”
What a wonderful credo to take with us into our online communications. For some reason, we humans have a tendency to say things online we would never say in a face to face encounter. What if, as we were about to engage online, we asked ourselves those three questions, and raised the bar of kindness in digital communications?
5 – Generosity
As we come to the final days of June, your favourite charity is likely running it’s End of Financial Year appeal as we speak, generating support to continue seeking the good of others. The advances of these last ten years means that in all likelihood, you can pick up your phone right now, pull up their website, and make a donation to a cause you care about. Why not make the most of the opportunity that our phones allow, and be generous today.
6 – Focus
The iPhone, and all the subsequent digital devices arising from it, have significantly impacted our ability to focus. If we want to be those who retain the ability to focus deeply, and to benefit from the creativity, innovation, understanding and problem-solving that arises from such a state of mind, then we will need to be deliberate about it. Why not consider one change you can make to nurture more focus in your life?
7 – Personal Touch
The power of our devices means we can be in virtual connection with people we may never even meet face to face. Every kind of communication, from a birthday party invitation to business correspondence, bills and even love letters, can now take place digitally. This is an amazing breakthrough in many ways, but also means that a true, physical ‘personal touch’ element in rarer in most people’s lives than ever. You can make someone’s week today by getting out a physical pen and paper and writing a personal letter, dropping off a small gift or homemade meal, or even just sending a bunch of flowers. Let’s be those who champion the power of the personal touch to strengthen our relationships.
8 – Productivity
One thing the iPhone – and the app store – have definitely given us, is a veritable treasure trove of tools to assist us in the quest for productivity. Make the most of it all by working out what it is you most want to achieve, and then experimenting with some great apps, blogs or kindle books on your iPhone in order to chase down your picture of success.
9 – Growth
Today, you can sit anywhere, pull your iPhone out of your pocket, and take a MOOC from Harvard, followed by an online masterclass on screenwriting from Aaron Sorkin, then brush up on your Spanish and work your way through an introduction to Coding 101. You can take part in Facebook group masterclasses in social media marketing, be part of an online bookclub, and sit in on webinars and Facebook live classes from business leaders from just about any sector. There has never been a better time to be a lifelong learner, and you can do it all from your iPhone. Don’t let this golden age of growth pass you by. Lean into it. Always be growing, always be curious, always be learning.
10 – Encouragement
And finally, encouragement. That fact that our iPhones and smartphones in general have enabled us to work from anywhere and everywhere, means that our task-orientation, to-do-list, full-inbox list of answers to give and things to execute on follows us into every corner of our lives, and can become our dominant mode of interacting with others online – especially if we aren’t conscious of it. Yet it has never been easier to give encouragement. We have about five different channels through which we can reach most people we interact with – why not use one of them today to think of someone you appreciate, someone who inspires you, or someone who is doing a great job, and tell them how much you value them. Everyone appreciates encouragement.
The iPhone has changed our lives in many ways. Let’s be those who use it to change the world for the better.