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Has The iPhone Changed Life As We Know It?

Steve Jobs has changed computing but has he changed our lives?
Steve Jobs has changed computing but has he changed our lives?

The story of Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs taking another medical leave as he battles with cancer has been a big media story this week. And it’s a led to some extravagant claims by reporters and their sources about Jobs’ demigod status. It’s true that he and Apple have had some big hits lately… biggest among them the iPhone. But check out this statement, which I heard in a public radio story that aired yesterday on Marketplace.

“Apple has created a series of beautiful, easy to use devices that put the Internet in your pocket. Apple’s hooked us into Google Maps, Netflix and millions of apps. (Tech analyst Yair Reiner) says this has changed computing, the Internet and how we live… maybe forever.”

The iPhone has changed our lives? Exploitation of fossil fuels has changed our lives. The advance of medical science and the construction of modern sanitation systems have changed our lives. But the iPhone? Seems a stretch. Besides, forever is a long time.


Compare that statement with one I spied, also yesterday, on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Daily Dish:

A reader writes, “Unfortunately, I believe there is a negative side to the relationships among Apple, our culture and technology. In the first half of the 20th century, the U.S. made goods that were essential to life. In the second half, we made machines and software that made it easier and more efficient to produce those essential goods. In both cases, the utility of what we produced stretched far beyond the end-user. However, over the past 20 years, much of our technology has been focused on facilitating our personal mirth via iPods, Facebook, widescreens, etc. It may not be an accident that this shift in technology focus coincided with economic decline, because I do not believe these personal technologies bring as many positive externalities as do steam engines, cotton gins and inventory control systems. Or put more succinctly, what comes after, ‘Here we are now. Entertain us.’”?

When I compare the way we lived one hundred years ago to today the difference is astonishing and mostly, though not entirely, positive. So what constitutes true progress? I’m not sure the greater mobility and convenience of the iPhone qualifies. The iPhone does emphasize the trend toward individuality and isolation that’s also been encouraged by the television and the automobile.

But then I trend toward Puritanism and Luddite sentimentalism. If Apple has changed your life, let me know how.