Telecoms and Society
Perhaps the most fundamental question about the fluid world of the smartphone is whether its currents will, in general, bring people together or move them apart. The Ood-ignoring, text-neck-risking screen-focused commuters on trains and buses seem even more isolated from each other than they used to be. In 2013 security footage on a San Francisco Muni train showed a number of passengers failing to notice a man playing with a pistol until he shot someone. The title and tagline of a book by Sherry Turkle of MIT seem to sum up something real: “Alone Together—Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other”.
Then again, the devices really do bring people closer together. They do it casually, by ensuring that there is always someone to play a game with, or indeed hook up with. They do it commercially, matching people needing jobs to people wanting them and people with goods to sell to people who want to buy. They do it impersonally, with celebrity selfies sent to huge numbers of followers, and they do it intimately, with near-constant conversation within families and lifelong links to friends you might otherwise have lost. They may do it in a way that lets people exclude voices that challenge them; they may do it in ways that are unutterably banal. They may do it differently according to age and gender—some research suggests that, at least in some cultures, women use phones to enrich and strengthen existing social bonds by sharing photos and the like, while men use them to create new, weaker bonds based on shared interest. But they do it nonetheless.
The new computing’s tendency to the fluid will, in all likelihood, mean that the current form of the phone will not last forever. The truly personal computing phones make possible, though—the sort which adapts you to your surroundings and vice versa—seems sure to persist. People will live in perpetual contact both with each other and with the computational power of the cloud.
Fascinating article on The Economist, well worth a read