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How Smartphones Changed Us

Apple's iPhone X announcement offers a chance to look back

10 Ways Smartphones Changed Us. As iPhone nears its 10th birthday, let us count the ways.

Jonathan Knowles/Getty Images

Nothing is the same as it was before the smartphone.

Apple unveiled the latest versions of its iconic smartphone on Tuesday, the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X — the latter a premium-priced 10th anniversary model with an eye-popping $999 price tag.

Among the snazziest bells and whistles on the iPhone X are facial recognition technology to unlock the device, a higher resolution OLED screen and an edge-to-edge display that eliminates the home button (instead, you swipe up to find the main menu.) The iPhone 8, also available in a bigger iPhone 8 Plus model, features an all-glass body and a faster processing chip. It's not exactly a bargain either, with a starting price of $699.

Apple will start taking preorders for both iPhone 8 models on Friday, and it hits stores on Sept. 22. The wait for the iPhone X is a bit longer — preorders start Oct. 27, and the on-sale date is Nov. 3. But before we look ahead, let’s toast the iPhone’s first decade with a list of some of the significant ways the device — and all its smartphone brethren — has changed our lives over the past 10 years.


1. Friendship

The first iPhone was released on June 29, 2007, less than a year after Facebook opened its audience to the general public (it was initially for college students only). The elixir of smartphones and social media has completely changed the way we interact with friends, both in making them and maintaining them. Once, most of us could name just about all our friends as they drifted into and out of our lives. Now? Facebook, Twitter, et al. keep a running count for us  — from that guy you kinda knew in high school to your cousin’s bestie, and more than a few we’ve probably never met in person.

2. Communication

Speaking of friends, a decade ago, to reach one you often had to make a phone call (and maybe pay long-distance rates) or — gasp! — take out a pen and write a letter. Sure, texting was around in 2007, but it was the old T9, or multitap hunt-and-peck-peck-peck method (no keyboard, letters corresponded to numbers on a dial pad). Now, you can check in with anyone with a glance down and a touch. And try explaining emojis to your 10-years-younger self. 😊

3. Dating and Romance

Online dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony were well established before the smartphone era, but the devices have certainly made the process much easier. For better or for worse, their GPS capability spawned an explosion of apps such as Tinder and Grindr, which pair you with other, um, romance searchers in your vicinity. The traditional first date seems to be a vanishing anachronism.

4. Language

Those dating apps are among the many that have contributed to the evolution of language in the smartphone age. “Swipe” once meant to steal something; now it’s how we navigate our digital devices, gliding our fingers across a touchscreen. And it matters which direction we go, too: On dating apps, swipe left means you’re not interested, while a swipe to the right is a thumbs-up, to steal a predigital digital gesture. And then there’s ghost, added to the dictionary this year. It’s not an apparition. It’s when someone, usually a romantic interest, abruptly stops texting you back without explanation.

5. Cartography

OK, it’s a fancy word for maps, which smartphones have essentially rendered obsolete, at least those of the paper variety. Navigation systems have been in cars for years, but having one in your pocket at all times has opened up a world of possibilities (and alternate routes). Many GPS and map apps include suggestions for restaurants, services and entertainment based on your GPS location. Gas station attendants have far fewer questions from lost customers these days. Wherever you are, you know just where you are.

6. Travel

Once, booking a vacation was a fairly laborious task, filled with phone calls, schedule conundrums and AAA booklets. Now, it’s literally as easy as a few swipes on your smartphone. Most airlines and hotels have apps that let you plan a trip by using nothing more than your fingers and your eyes.

7. Opinions

Oh sure, everyone has always had them. But before smartphones put virtual megaphones into our hands, not everyone could share them so easily (AND SO LOUDLY!). In many cases, the wisdom of the crowd has been immensely helpful. Take TripAdvisor, for example, the app that offers reviews about every aspect of the travel industry from real customers. In other cases, like when the comments section on every news story devolves into base ideological sniping, we’re reminded of the wisdom of the predigital maxim about staying silent and being thought a fool.

8. News and Entertainment

The smartphone is a multiplex in your palm with a cable box thrown in, along with, for good measure, a jukebox loaded with pretty much every song ever recorded. Oh, and a bookstore stocked with almost every book every written, magazines, newspapers and more. Just about nothing is the same as it was before the smartphone, but few things have changed as much as the way we receive news and entertainment.

9. Health

Tons of apps offer fitness and nutrition trackers, and many more offer workout plans, videos and diet tips. There are apps that can monitor blood sugar and test your vision, and trackers that help caregivers keep tabs on loved ones without being physically present. Many doctors allow patients to book appointments and check test results from their phone. Steps forward, all, but health still seems like the next big frontier — to wit, if you own an iPhone, how often do you use its built-in health app?

10. Attention spans

In 2000, a study showed that the attention span for the average human was 12 seconds. By last year, that figure had decreased to 8 seconds. As a point of comparison, scientists estimate that a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds. Seems unbelievable, until you remember driving behind that person clearly texting their way down the highway, or dodging a passerby on the sidewalk whose nose was buried in a screen. Clearly, not all the changes in the smartphone era have been the good kind. But then, you stopped reading this story a long time ago, didn’t you?

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