Flatlining

Horrific news. Forget the dead whales. Sales of the iPhone, icon of the Spirit of the Age, are flatlining. Which can only mean, logically, that the Spirit of the Age is also in a state of paralysis. We have lost touch with who we are, and, if you believe the advertising, all that we can be (or is that someone else?).

The iPhone was launched in 2007, since when the world has changed. Changed, at any rate to the extent that everyone now has one. It is no longer a cult of the hip and wealthy. It is a universal religion, or, if its advocates are to be believed, a transformation of human possibility on the scale of the invention of moveable type. It is an emblem of the twenty-first century thinking hominid.

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As Steve Jobs was fond of pointing out. His favourite anecdote, which he told and retold in interviews and speeches and I suppose keynote addresses (presentations to you and me) regarded a study undertaken at some institution or other into the mechanical efficiency of various animals. A scale was produced, in which humans and other medium-sized mammals came somewhere in the middle, and right out at the top was the condor, most efficient creature on the planet. But then someone had the nous to plug human-on-a-bicycle into the equations, and it turned out that a human on a bicycle was more efficient even that a condor by several orders of magnitude.

Jobs told this story with reference to the information age revolution in general, rather than the iPhone in particular. I do not know that the iPhone has unlocked human potential to quite that degree. Yes, you can now walk and talk at the same time. You can, simultaneously and at the mere swipe of a finger, summon a taxi and read the newspaper and take a photograph of the pavement. All these things are possible. But at some point you still have to pedal the bicycle, as it were. The device is not going to think for you. There has to be something for it to amplify, beyond its own neatness and coolness and silveriness.

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