The year 2023 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the cell phone, meaning that increasing numbers of us have spent our entire lives with this technology at our literal fingertips. And today, those bulky handsets of yesteryear really do feel like relics of another age, with contemporary devices becoming arguably the most influential gadgets of modern times. This is Unveiled, and today we're answering the extraordinary question; 

What if smartphones were never invented? 

Are you a fiend for facts? 

Are you constantly curious?


And ring the bell for more fascinating content! Clearly, the smartphone is a different breed from all that came before it - including those once super-sleek and ultra-stylish flip phones of the ‘90s, and the humongous bricks that were proudly carried in the late ‘70s and‘80s. The first true smartphone device was the SimonPersonal Communicator from IBM, developed in 1992 - although it was three more years before the term “smartphone” was even widely spoken about. As such, we still have two distinct social groups when it comes to how we view advanced mobile devices: you’re either a digital immigrant or a digital native. 

What If Smartphones Were Never Invented? 


That is, you have either adapted to, accepted, or possibly rejected certain tech trends that have arisen in your lifetime; or you've never known anything different because smartphones and the like have been around since the day you were born. In an updated 2019 report from the Pew research center in Washington D.C., approximately ninety-six percent of Americans own a cell phone of some design, with eighty-one percent owning a smartphone. Less than a decade ago smartphone ownership was at just thirty-five percent, showing that we - and especially the tech natives amongst us - are increasingly attached to our mobile devices. Take smartphones away forever then, or in fact, never introduce them in the first place, and the world would suddenly feel very different- for better and worse. Without smartphones, we’d have the freedom of not being connected 24/7. With no incentive to document our daily lives, the simple fact that none of us would be on our phones would be the most obvious, immediate change. No selfies, no photos of our lunches, and no sharing on-the-spot status updates. We'd be forced to actually live in the moment, make our memories, and rely only upon them, as opposed to the hundreds of snapshots taking up space on our devices. Without phones as a distraction, it's also possible - or even probable - that our creativity and general motivation would increase, as we'd wind up spending our downtime doing something other than playing on or staring at our screens. 

The truth of the argument reality

The so-called “fear of missing out” would dissipate too, as that connection to immediate, real-time information wouldn’t be there. Of course, were smartphones never to happen, we wouldn’t be switched off entirely. Other computers and the internet would still exist, it’s just that handheld, pocket-sized, round-the-clock access points to the internet wouldn't. We’d still have the wealth of information and opportunity that the internet affords us, but we’d lose all of the smartphone-specific benefits. Up-to-date weather alerts, traffic updates, GPS maps, and immediate access to breaking news stories as they happen - we’d have none of these conveniences. Even in terms of plain communication, the links between all of us would be much slower - a particular problem for the emergency services, who rely on cell phones - and now smartphones - to learn of, locate and arrive at the scene of a crime or accident. 


We’d still be able to communicate with friends and relatives all around the world via email, landline, or the postal service, but the immediacy of texting, picture messaging or video call wouldn’t be there. Still, the argument that we over-rely on our smartphones for superficial reasons is often repeated, particularly when it comes to social media. And there are increasing numbers of studies suggesting that our constant access to social media is damaging our lives in general. For example, a 2017 study from the national center for Biotechnology Information touches upon the link between body dysmorphic disorder and social media use, specifically with adolescents and twenty-somethings. 


The article proposes that the excessive taking of selfies, combined with a distorted sense of reality that’s presented on sites like Instagram and Twitter, could contribute to a declining sense of self-worth. So, if we lived in a world without smartphones, would these pressures of keeping up with social trends or trying to match the perceived perfection of others be a thing of the past? Well, yes and no. The basic desire to "keep up with the Joneses" will likely always be a part of the human experience, but it is possible that, without a constant state of self-aware connection, we’d see a decline in the number of young people hurting from social anxiety, or disorders like body dysmorphia. 


Today's smartphone market is also big business, with multiple companies like Apple and Samsung competing for our custom. And then there are the wireless carriers also a dog-eat-dog race to land our data plans and long-term phone contracts. Needless to say, if smartphones weren't a"thing”, all of these companies would look radically different. Could Apple, for instance, whose business today largely relies on the prevalence of the iPhone, even stay afloat? Regardless, the lives of any business professional would clearly be different, as well. Employer expectations in terms of productivity have tended to increase as per the rise of the smartphone. Workforces are rarely “away from their desk” nowadays, thanks to email apps that are always on. But, without smartphones, it’d be easier to “finish up for the weekend” and actually mean it. 


Meanwhile, the way in which companies advertise themselves might’ve evolved differently, too. Though social media would still prove an effective platform, without customers who are glued to their smartphone screens, business owners might've more heavily relied on “word of mouth” as a genuine route to success. And that’s because casual conversation and face-to-face interactions would’ve also evolved differently - in that they’d still be the most common way of communicating. A 2015 study by Elon University ProfessorEmily Drago quoted over half of the college students surveyed as preferring to use their phones to communicate, as opposed to in-person conversations - but such a statistic wouldn't possibly have smartphones never been invented. Interestingly, nearly ninety percent of the students from that survey also complained that real-life conversations were ruined if another person was using their phone at the same time. But this wouldn’t be a problem, either.

In terms of other social situations, without smartphones, we’d never have seen the emergence of dating apps. Relationships would instead still be forged the old-fashioned way, where would-be romantics met by chance, went on dates, and talked to each other - without once swiping left or right. 


It’s another form of social media that we'd never have even envisaged. All things considered; social situations would be a whole lot more "social" without smartphones to get in the way. So, that’s work and play, but what about school and home? Sadly, the erasing of smartphones from our cultural history wouldn’t curtail bullying in general, but we might never have seen the widely reported a rise in online abuse that young people suffer today. As with every other section of society, schoolchildren also wouldn’t have a habitual need to “check their phones” at any given moment- which could result in closer friendships, fewer distractions in class, and, again, less social pressure. However, smartphones have also become a vital tool for research, so there are some obvious downsides for education - not least that assignments would be harder to complete, and large families would still have to allocate time on a home computer to ensure that everyone could access the internet for their studies. We’d also never have grown used to easily answering practically any question, or settling practically any debate, with just a few taps on our phones. Instead, we’d have to learn and memorize information, ready to access it from our own brains if it’s ever needed. In his 2012 book "Digital Dementia,", neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer connects the overuse of digital technology with short term memory dysfunction… 


So, there’s a chance that without smartphones, although the amount of knowledge we could instantly access would dramatically fall, our brainpower would increase. Strangely, differences in the way our brains work wouldn’t be the only biological change - because we might also have smaller thumbs. Yes, according to a 2016 study in the UK, one in twenty people felt that the thumbs they primarily used for swiping through their phones seemed to have grown bigger. And, in America especially, it’s becoming an increasing concern - with more and more patients complaining to their doctors of aching and soreness as part of what’s been widely dubbed “smartphone thumb”. So, if smartphones had never happened, we'd least never have had to contend with that. A smartphone-free world isn’t wholly one thing or the other, though. 


There are clear positives and negatives when imagining our lives without them. For some, the prospect of a phone-less existence is scarily unimaginable; for others, it’d be a vast improvement in modern society. For now, smartphones don’t appear to be going anywhere, the world keeps turning, and we continue to advance… it's up to us to find a balance between using the tech and remembering what it was that united us before we kept these devices in our pockets. But that’s what would happen if smartphones were never invented. What do you think? 

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