You Thought iPhone Is a Cute Telephone with Internet – Wrong

| Columns & Opinions

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.

6 Comments Add a comment

  1. ibuck

    An acquaintance says this may be an era where we regress as a species, with angry disagreement over basic values and meaning, greedy/corrupt leaders, communication that is difficult and stressful. I don’t want to accept that, but I see signs of this in both US and British politics. And I have concerns about technology/netspeak perhaps helping us devolve.

  2. CudaBoy

    Interesting that the world is full of new tech – 3D printing, Quantum dots, light field cameras, autonomous cars, solar/battery tech, robotics and coding for kids, VR, AI, and what does this site harp on for 95% of the time for the last several years? Same old thing – iPhones. I long for the days we used to “Ob:” “Macs”; cell phones are so mind-numbingly boring. Next. Happy Fourth y’all.

  3. Jamie

    Where have you been, Cuda? There have been articles on the site regarding all of those subjects just in the past week. 😉 Okay, maybe not 3D printing or light field cams. Given that iPhones are Apple’s number one revenue source and due to the fact that they have literally reshaped communication (among so many other facets) not just in our society, but in the entire world, there are bound to be articles about them.

    I’m with ibuck. Though it’s clear Apple needs to sell phones (and equally clear who they are hoping to sell them to, sigh) I don’t believe the cultural shiftiness of these times are necessarily a *good* thing, per se. A staggering amount of work went into Messages, and I understand the logic, but it was seriously lowest common denominator type of stuff. There is no question in my mind that the misuse of mobile technology, in tandem with social media, has definitely done its part in pushing us backward as a species. Thankfully they introduced some very useful features for the rest of us, too. Remember when the ‘rest of us’ were the people Apple made things for? Have the ‘rest of us’ all become monkeys slinging their electronic poo and boobies at the world?

    PS – it’s astonishing as well, for all the talk about coding, how few people know how to do much of anything with their devices (‘Fakebook! Messaging! Selfies! Uh . . . what do you mean it does other stuff?’). Digital literacy would be a better first step, methinks.

  4. “An acquaintance says this may be an era where we regress as a species, with angry disagreement over basic values and meaning, greedy/corrupt leaders, communication that is difficult and stressful. I don’t want to accept that, but I see signs of this in both US and British politics. And I have concerns about technology/netspeak perhaps helping us devolve.”

    Everything old is new again, such complaints and observations has been said by every generation.

  5. aardman

    @jamie. Digital literacy for the masses? Heck, I’d settle for just plain literacy! Then we’d have an electorate that isn’t easily duped by the first sweet-talking mountebank that comes along.

  6. AI’s have already gotten creepy.
    I ran across this story a few years ago on the CBC program Under the Influence. In an episode about companies using data mining to target ads they told a story about Target. It seems that they started using AIs to sift through public data and purchase history on their customers. At some point it connected particular buying patterns among women with them expecting a child. It started sending out messages to them with congratulations and special offers on nursery furnishings, Pampers, and such. Trouble was in many cases the AI had figured out the women were pregnant before the women had. Needless to say this freaked some people out.

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