A Sociology of the Smartphone
June 18, 2017 2:21 PM   Subscribe

A Sociology of the Smartphone, 10 years after the launch of the iPhone. Interesting longread by Adam Greenfield. Via VersoBooks.
posted by growabrain (32 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
MeFi's own (we're also in the book's acknowledgements: https://metatalk.metafilter.com/24183/Just-a-note-of-thanks-really).
posted by cichlid ceilidh at 2:32 PM on June 18 [6 favorites]


...sized to sit comfortably in the adult hand, and to be operated, if need be, with the thumb only. This requirement constrains the device to a fairly narrow range of shapes and sizes; almost every smartphone on the market at present is a blunt slab, a chamfered or rounded rectangle between eleven and fourteen centimeters tall, and some six to seven wide.

I remember the Apple lawsuit where they claimed to have invented the rectangle.
posted by adept256 at 4:26 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


...It’s easy, too easy, to depict the networked subject as being isolated, in contact with others only at the membrane that divides them. But if anything, the overriding quality of our era is porosity. Far from affording any kind of psychic sanctuary, the walls we mortar around ourselves turn out to be as penetrable a barrier as any other. Work invades our personal time, private leaks into public, the intimate is trivially shared, and the concerns of the wider world seep into what ought to be a space for recuperation and recovery. Above all, horror finds us wherever we are.

This is one of the costs of having a network organ, and the full-spectrum awareness it underwrites: a low-grade, persistent sense of the world and its suffering that we carry around at all times, that reaches us via texts and emails and Safety Check notices. The only way to hide from that knowledge is to decouple ourselves from the fabric of connections that gives us everything else we are. And that is something we clearly find hard to do, for practical reasons as much as psychic ones: network connectivity now underwrites the achievement of virtually every other need on the Maslovian pyramid, to the extent that refugees recently arriving from warzones have been known to ask for a smartphone before anything else, food and shelter not excluded.
...
posted by growabrain at 4:46 PM on June 18 [12 favorites]


I remember the Apple lawsuit where they claimed to have invented the rectangle.

It had to do with the specific dimensions of the sides and radius of the corners, that they claimed were being copied.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:39 PM on June 18 [5 favorites]


Impressively high MTTB (Mean Time to Borges) in this. My copy of Adam's book just arrived, I am excited to get info it.
posted by migurski at 6:11 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


I don't find that the smartphone has replaced any of the things that the article states, which seems to be the premise of the article. should i keep reading?
posted by eustatic at 6:38 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


There's an adoption curve that people miss when discussing the way people use Smartphones. The one we all know about is the ownership curve: first a gadget is bought by the techie, early-adopter types and then trickles down to the masses. The second is the social adoption curve, which is the development of norms and customs around the new gadget.

Most of these thinkpieces are written either by techie, early-adopter types who have had some kind of pocket internet device since 2007, if not earlier with a Blackbery or a Palm Treo, or something of that sort—or they're written by curmudgeonly, borderline luddite types who see everyone with their New Shiny Thing, and bemoan the changes it has wrought, without thinking about the social adoption curve.

Something I've noticed among a lot of techie, early-adopter types, is that they're establishing some new, different norms with their smartphones. You hear about things like "the phone stack," where groups at dinner pile their phones up in the middle of the table, and the first person to check their phone has to pay the bill. Or, you hear about people switching back to flip phones, or using a smartwatch to keep up with urgent things and keep their phones in their pocket, or desk during the day. You hear about modifying the software to hide distracting apps, all kinds of new ways to relate to their smartphone that has yet to trickle down to the masses.

In other words, we're still sussing out the social acceptability of these things. The early-adopter types who have lived with these kind of devices for a decade or more are the first to try and figure out the rules, and they'll eventually filter down to the world at large. The day some famous techie/normie crossover person shows off the techie social norm that backgrounds the smartphone, within a year or two, everyone will be doing it, and we'll all wonder what all these epic thinkpieces were even about.
posted by SansPoint at 7:09 PM on June 18 [12 favorites]


You hear about things like "the phone stack," where groups at dinner pile their phones up in the middle of the table, and the first person to check their phone has to pay the bill.

I've never witnessed this happening in person, but I imagine you'd need to do it with a group of people who (if you wanted to make this a recurring affair) all check their phones with roughly equal frequency... otherwise you'd get somebody who never loses, or somebody who always loses, or both, and those both sound like they'd lead to the dissolution of the group or at least of the phone stack idea.
posted by one for the books at 7:59 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


I don't find that the smartphone has replaced any of the things that the article states, which seems to be the premise of the article. should i keep reading?

I found there were some things the smartphone didn't replace, for me. As the author is speaking about the greater phenomenon, and all of these things are true for at least some people, yes, I think you should continue reading.

Your mileage may vary, after all.
posted by lhauser at 8:19 PM on June 18 [2 favorites]


I'd like one of those crappy infomercials now - grainy black and white, "Tired of having your pocket real estate taken up by all those breath mints??", horrified look on a woman's face as she pulls her hands out with her jacket spewing mints everywhere, cut to her in color happily sitting at a bus stop sucking on her iPhone.
posted by mannequito at 9:48 PM on June 18 [8 favorites]


Or, you hear about people switching back to flip phones...

Back to flip phones? I never left them.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:24 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]


If I could get a flip phone with personal wifi hotspot, USB network tethering, a half decent camera, an accessible micro SD slot and a replaceable battery, I would ditch my nasty little fondleslab in a heartbeat.

The touchscreen and the frequently-bumped side buttons are easily the device's worst feature. I have lost count of the number of times that this ridiculously impoverished control set has annoyed me by misinterpreting my intentions. I want real digital buttons, not this idiotic analog fingerpainting surface, and I want an inbuilt door that shields my ringer volume from being fiddled with by my house keys.
posted by flabdablet at 5:32 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


And I want it bigger in my hand than it is in my pocket, too.
posted by flabdablet at 5:35 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I'm an IT manager and I've never owned a cell phone. I loved the iPhone but never had the need for one. True, what I wanted was a computer in my pocket but not a phone. So the iPod Touch works for me. Computer in my pocket, web, camera and no ring or buzz. Voice is overrated for my job. I manage machines not people. Machines respond they don't initiate unless I say. If someone absolutely needs to speak to me we meet, in person. I'm frankly surprised the phone is still a component of a smart phone.
posted by judson at 6:55 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


I'm frankly surprised the phone is still a component of a smart phone.

I find that I use the phone function decreasingly over time. These days, the only time I use it is to talk to my mom about once a week, and for the occasional restaurant reservation that isn't online.

My wife and my friends, it's pretty much all texting all the time.
posted by Fleebnork at 7:56 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]


and I want an inbuilt door that shields my ringer volume from being fiddled with by my house keys.

I'm horrified that your phone is ever in a position to be that close to your keys.
posted by sixfootaxolotl at 9:08 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


sixfootaxolotl: Seriously. I keep my phone in my left pocket, and my keys in my right pocket. This is essential.
posted by SansPoint at 9:36 AM on June 19


I'm horrified that your phone is ever in a position to be that close to your keys.

Of course you are. You're used to carrying around a fragile, demanding, expensive fondleslab; as am I, now.

I have to dedicate an entire cargo shorts pocket to this delicate little flower and be sure to keep it glass side inward, lest my car's gear stick decides it wants to put another crack in it; my shitty old LG flip phone had no problem at all bumping along in the same pocket my keys are in for the three years I kept it there.
posted by flabdablet at 9:43 AM on June 19


Seriously. I keep my phone in my left pocket, and my keys in my right pocket.

I'm constantly amazed, after a decade and a half of ubiquitous rectangles-in-pockets, that not all pants -- And I mean all pants, for any gender, occasion or level of dressiness -- have separate phone pockets.
posted by gurple at 9:44 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Holy shit, it exists.
posted by flabdablet at 10:04 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]


I'm frankly surprised the phone is still a component of a smart phone.

Especially since talking to someone even on a $600 iPhone STILL sounds like they're standing at the other end of a half-full sewer tunnel.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:51 AM on June 19


Seriously, I mean, at this point it's gotta be intentional, right? Carriers and/or Apple have some kind of weird incentive to not want us to actually make phone calls?
posted by gottabefunky at 10:52 AM on June 19


I think it has to do with the difficulties of using the same network for voice and data......the old-school phone network (the kind that terminated in a plug in your house that you connected a "phone" to) was designed for voice, and it worked well for that.
posted by thelonius at 11:18 AM on June 19


gurple Any pants with with at least two pockets have a phone pocket. Specifically, the left pocket.
posted by SansPoint at 11:48 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]


Adele - Make you feel my love, her tribute to Amy Winehouse, costarring the mobile phone.
posted by bonehead at 1:08 PM on June 19


Any pants with with at least two pockets have a phone pocket. Specifically, the left pocket.

Demonstrably untrue. I find that an iPhone SE (the smallest currently available) does not fit well in the left pocket about a third of the pants that I wear without stabbing me in the leg when I sit down. Even when it does fit, it was a constant battle of siri-activation until the most recent iOS updates.

An iPhone 6 or 7 just does not fit at all, period, and if i forced one in there and tried to sit down, i would bend the phone.

Neither does the one Android I've had, a samsung galaxy.

These phones are why we still need cargo shorts.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 8:02 AM on June 20


flabdablet, if you have an iphone, you can turn off the ringer buttons in Settings > Sounds > Ringer and Alerts, then toggle off the "Change with Buttons" switch.

as far as phone + keys, don't y'all have a phone case? I make sure the screen faces towards my body, and put my keys on the outside so they only touch the case. Nary a scratch on the screen or case.

I'm so puzzled by what people are doing to their phones. I've only cracked one screen, when I was extremely stressed and rushed and closed the center console on it when I didn't realize it wasn't all the way inside. If you're dropping it repeatedly, get a case and maybe get checked by a doctor.

Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick, I have an iPhone 6 and I mostly wear 30x32 Levi's and Dockers. Never a problem fitting it in a pocket. (Women's jeans, yes.) Do you mean a 6+?
posted by AFABulous at 10:44 AM on June 20



No, I actually mean a 6. the 6 is 5.44" long. the SE (and older 5) is 4.87" long. I wear 33x34 levi's or carhartt's; primarily.

In the levi's, the pocket is not quite deep enough, and when the iphone 5 or SE is in its vertical orientation, the corner of it will poke me in the crease between groin and thigh as I sit down. It will also not fit at all in the pocket in a horizontal orientation. I have to opt for some fussy diagonal orientation, and i have cyclist thighs, so this puts some flex stress on the phone. It's really most comfortable if it stays vertical, but I have to fuss with it or take it out of my pocket to sit.

The carhartt's are better, since the pocket is actually deep enough, and i've been switching the pants i wear for phone comfort, but it's frustrating that i even have to. I have deeper respect for the Woman Pocket Problem ever since i started carrying anything larger than a gen3 ipod touch (4.3")

I actually consider the 5/SE to be too big for a variety of reasons, but pocket fit is the primary one.

And now MeFi knows more than they'd like to about my anatomy.

For a 6/7 Plus, i might as well be trying to jam a paperback book in there for all the good it'll do. I think those phones were designed for men that wear sportcoats with inner pockets and women with purses, and to hell with the proles.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 11:23 AM on June 20


I think thigh size might be the determining factor, since I'm skinny and lazy.
posted by AFABulous at 11:32 AM on June 20


if you have an iphone

Sorry, you must have me confused with somebody who enjoys pissing money up a wall.
posted by flabdablet at 11:41 AM on June 20


I sit, but nice try
posted by AFABulous at 11:48 AM on June 20 [3 favorites]


Impressively high MTTB (Mean Time to Borges) in this.

Duly noted. I am of course always interested in reducing my MTTB, across all my writing and conversation.
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:23 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


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