The world’s technical culture can be experienced as an evolving collection of interactions driven by communication tools on, say, the iPhone. Within that sphere of connections, as new technologies evolve, new subcultures and mores evolve across age groups. However, it’s one thing to be immersed in the culture and quite another to step outside it and analyze it from broader human principles.

Teenagers with smartphone

I ran across two articles this week that relate to all that. The first, “Facts about today’s teens’ technology, social media use and sex.” describes various social phenomena and the role the iPhone plays. [Make sure you look at all the slides.] To understand that evolution of culture is to understand how Apple likely thinks about the evolution of the iPhone. That understanding goes a long way towards explaining the June WWDC keynote emphasis on emojis and messaging.

iPhone Design Imperatives

In a broader sense, for an Apple engineer to be plugged into that culture, either personally or though their children, means that the future designs of the iPhone are not merely technical advances, better security, and new convenience features. In essence, the profile of an iPhone’s utility has to both mesh with the culture of young people and respond faithfully to social evolution.

In terms of analysis from a broader human perspective, as I mentioned above, here is a doctoral student, Laur M. Jackson, trying to make sense of how, in an age of megabits per second communication, we’ve evolved (or devolved) into a shorthand culture of code, emojis, cryptic phrasing, idioms, hashtags and so on. The analysis is here: “E•MO•JIS: Netspeak and chill.” For the linguists, anthropologists and those curious about the evolution of our communication culture, this is fascinating reading. Here’s an excerpt.

We know what happens to idioms that reach critical mass; more important, how the process of popularity in fact necessitates a kind of ironic reduction of the object. The unique, inventive aspects that make us want to pass it on must be shorn off for maximum circulation and accessibility. The examples are endless: Consider the relatively recent fates of “basic,” “Netflix and chill,” and “squad,” words sourced and repurposed from Black vernacular for, it seems, the sole purpose of later writing a jaded testimonial about them. Linguists identify the processes that make up this phenomenon as entextualization, transduction, and—as many nonlinguists know—appropriation. Entextualization describes the making moveable of an idiom; induction is its actual relocation; and appropriation, taking on that which has been displaced as one’s own.

To think of the iPhone as a miniature telephone with a UNIX-based operating system and Internet access is to think of it only at the crudest and highest level of hardware and software. Digging deeper, one finds that it has become a social tool of the first order and, accordingly, must provide specific kinds of functionality that enables essential and popular services: Apple Music, FaceBook, Instagram, Kik, Snapchat, Pinterest, Spotify, Tinder, Vine and Twitter.

Of course, there is much more. The mechanisms and design of these services both define and enable social interactions that dictate mores, language, values and allocation of life’s priorities. That’s whole different doctoral thesis. Or dozens of them.

Understanding Apple

In summary, then, it seems possible in principle to put the evolution of iOS into perspective against the social needs of the users. Of course, not every iPhone customer engages every cultural sphere, but the facts and analysis contained in the above two articles go a long way towards an explanation of what we see coming out of Apple with each new version of iOS in June.

Back in the early 1980s, John Dvorak advised all his readers to buy a PC and learn to use it or they’d miss the bus [heading into the future]. Today, a new bus, the iPhone, is inviting and enticing the next generation of  very communicative passengers.

Next page: The Tech News Debris for the Week of June 27th. The biggest risk for AI agents.

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