Sometimes the best way of thinking about something completely familiar is to treat it as wholly alien. If you had to explain a smartphone to somebody recently arrived from the 1990s, how would you describe what it is and, even more importantly, what it does?
In a way, that’s what this article is doing, painstakingly describing both the very familiar, and the aspects of its circumstances we prefer not to know – cheap phones have a high human and environmental price. An arresting starting point is to consider what people routinely carried around with them in 2005, and how much of that is now subsumed in a single ubiquitous device.
That’s fascinating in its own right, but it’s also an essential perspective for any kind of strategic thinking about government (or any other) services, for reasons pithily explained by Benedict Evans:
Periodic reminder: maybe 100 million people use any kind of pro PC app. 3 billion people have a smart phone, and that will rise to 5 billion people in the next few years https://t.co/NUtiAoOfS6
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) November 18, 2017
Anything that you can't do on mobile/tablet and can do on a PC is something that 90%+ of people couldn't actually do on a PC either.
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) July 14, 2017
Smartphones are technological marvels. But they are also powerful instruments of sociological change. Understanding them as both is fundamental to understanding them at all.