Being stuck in one chair permanently — and an immobile one, too — and not meeting a new face from one year to the next I have no need of a mobile phone, let alone a smartphone. Nevertheless, I’m fascinated by this new device. Smart phones are still what I consider to be expensive, but they’ve never been expensive enough to count as status goods except perhaps for a very short while some 20 years ago when the very first mobile hones — as heavy as bricks — were first introduced.
That phase was very brief because Moore’s Law — the number of transistors that could be got onto a silicon chip — was already growing exponentially. Prices came down very rapidly. Now that world sales of smartphones appears to be at their maximum already even the relatively expensive price of £700 will start coming down steeply before too long.
But what fascinates me more than anything about smartphones is the way that children have taken to them. Six hours a day seems a normal usage from what I’ve heard — two hours at the very least but as much as 12 hours in some cases. Any social custom that occupies so much time during waking hours is going to have the most profound effects on the overall culture in due course. The way we live, The way we work. Our attitude to government. I don’t think we can begin to guess what these effects might be.
I’m particularly intrigued as the effects of the smartphone on pre-pubescent children. This is when minds are at their most open to new influences — not just open but positively hoovering new data at a rate that they will never achieve again. This was when children were most conditionable by the values of the adult word. The difference today, though, is that children are no longer deferential to adult authority but mainly only to their own kind. Apart from some basic skills, such as adequate reading and writing — in about half of children — and adequate basic maths — in about one quarter — most of their other skills, whatever they may be are going to be derived from their contemporaries.
And then, when the frontal lobes start developing between puberty and the age of about 30 years, they can only develop the skills that were already laid down at puberty. Brand new skills cannot be adequately learned after puberty. But what are the skills that have been learned? I suppose young adults between the age of puberty and 30, who’ve also been affected by the smartphone, can give us a clue — if they had the time to tell us. But as for the pre-pubescent children who are presently experiencing the full gamut of the new device, we have no idea.
When they start to reach the age of 30 hears of age in 10 to 15 years’ time — or, rather, when the articulate one quarter of them start to do so — then we will begin to know no doubt. But until then the future culture of the advanced countries must remain a veil of mystery.