How many apps are on your smartphone?
Photo: Viktor Hanacek.. Source: Picjumbo
Smartphones are essential to more and more of our lives, whether it’s checking in with Grammie or getting directions or buying boots or reminding us that we left the stove on. They’ve been around for just over a decade, but the computers in our pockets have become indispensable. We use them to buy and sell, entertain, and find our friends. They’ve altered the texture of everyday life. They’re often the first things we look at in the morning and the last item we see before falling asleep.
Not since the advent of television in the ‘50s has a cultural artifact become so dominant so quickly. They’re like an invasive species, milfoil or kudzu, except that’s so convenient to have our smartphones be our boarding passes and credit cards and house keys. Losing a smartphone is lots more disruptive than losing a pocketbook or wallet. And as computing power continues to multiply and miniaturize, a higher and higher proportion of adults on the planet will be constantly connected to our global data web.
Howdy Doody. Photo: Volkan Yuksel. Source: Wikipedia
This has had enormous implications. The apps and functions we rely on for everyday life also gather and share data on us: where we go, who we spend time with, how we shop, almost everything about us. In part, they do this for our own convenience. If my phone knows where I parked my car, I don’t have to waste time and look like an idiot in the airport parking lot. But that data can be used in other, nasty ways. If Amazon knows how I shop and what I buy, it can tell its app to push items that generate higher margins for them. It’s no wonder Apple and Samsung are two of the biggest companies on the planet, or that all five big tech companies are intimately engaged with mobile computing.
Photo: Alfred Twu. Source: Wikimedia
After World War II, Winston Churchill proposed re-building the House of Commons to its original, centuries-old specification. He commented, “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” As smartphones become even more indispensible, Churchill might add that we shape our networks, and our networks shape us.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Charter Trust Company
“The Best Trust Company in New England”