Smart phones have replaced entire rooms worth of stuff
It’s what we have called dematerialization, as all that is solid melts into apps.
In 2014 we wrote Why Radio Shack is dying: Nobody needs what it sells anymore. and noted that every device in a 1991 Radio Shack ad found by Buffalo’s Steve Cichon (except for a radar detector) could be done on an iPhone. (Christopher Mims was on this even earlier) I concluded that “The smart phone is changing the way we live, the amount of space we need, the way we occupy it, and the way we get around.” We called it dematerialization.
Many complain today about how much stuff goes into making the smart phones but in fact, when you total it up, it is a whole lot less stuff than we used to have, and it takes up a whole lot less space. Andrew McAfee recycles that old Radio Shack ad in a Wired article somewhat optimistically titled “how the iPhone helped save the planet” and asks “What would have been produced over the past 12 years in a smartphone-free world? The answer, clearly, is a lot more: a lot more gear, and a lot more media.”
Sales of point-and-shoot cameras, camcorders, film, and videotapes have plummeted in recent years, but that’s not because we stopped caring about pictures and videos. Instead, it’s because a device called the smartphone came along that let us dematerialize our consumption of these things. Dematerialization is an idea that goes back at least to the 1920s (with R. Buckminster Fuller’s concept of “ephemerialization”), and evidence from the US and other high-income countries shows that it’s an idea whose time has finally come.
McAfee notes that not everything is perfect here, that we should “demand that gear-makers like Apple design their products to last longer and to be more easily repaired, so that we throw them away less often.” However he concludes that “we don’t need to worry that the iPhone and its digital kin are going to gobble up the planet, or even put a big dent in it. In fact, they’re doing the opposite.”
That is perhaps overly optimistic, but then this is Wired, which has always been overly optimistic. Nonetheless, after a dozen years of TreeHugger banging away on this theme of dematerialization, about how technological advances will let us live with less stuff in smaller spaces using less energy, that “your office is in your pants” along with the rest of your life, it’s interesting to see that the trend continues. Now, the whole world is in your pants.
See a dozen years worth of posts on dematerialization here.