Friday, April 12, 2024

The iPhone Is a Disease

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After months of struggling to understand the iPhone phenomenon, I have finally come to understand what makes the device so completely different from any other gadget. No, it’s not a phone, a “mini PC” or even a portable media and entertainment system.

The iPhone is a disease.

One you catch this particularly virulent bug, you become susceptible to a personality disorder that compels you to filter all experiences in life through the prism of whether or not there’s an app for it. It creates a bias in favor of information and media available through apps — and another bias against content not delivered through the iPhone.

I know, because I’ve got it. And I’ve seen others suffer from it as well.

Here are some random examples from my own experiences.

I’m attending a conference in Southern California this week called FORTUNE Brainstorm: TECH. The conference organizers arranged for all attendees to carry around SpotMe devices. These gadgets are essentially wireless mobile social networking devices that enable you to discover fellow attendees.

When I was issued my SpotMe gadget, my only thought was: “Why isn’t this an iPhone app?”

Later in the conference, I was listening to a panel discussion called “Smart Cities: How Tech Can Make Urban Areas Leaner and Greener.” The panelists discussed how making cities greener and saving the world, etc., would depend on a better-informed citizen. While they were talking about the enormous challenges, the solution seemed so simple and obvious to me: An iPhone app.

Someone should create an application that feeds data from your home electricity meter to your phone. It should know when you’re in your car, and when you’re in an airplane and what you’re doing. The app should show an estimate of how much money you’re spending on energy (like a gas pump, with the dollars and cents rolling by). The app would encourage everyone to be green out of self-interest.

There! Global warming solved!

Recently, my wife and I were planning to see a movie, and of course I impulsively fired up my Moviefone app. The service had a hiccup that prevented the show times for a movie we wanted to see. So we saw a different movie.

Lazy? Of course. But it’s a special kind of iPhone-centric laziness.

I’m a long-time Amazon Kindle freak, and read books, magazines and newspapers via my Kindle account. I used to spend most of my time reading newspaper stories, followed by magazine articles and — only when I had a little extra time — books.

But the Amazon Kindle app on my iPhone is so great, I spend about half my reading time using the iPhone, and the other half using the Kindle. (The service lets you pick up reading on one device where you left off on the other, making the switching process very nice.)

But because the iPhone app lets you read only books, and not read your newspaper or magazine subscriptions, I now spend most my time reading books. I’m ripping through books now, and my periodical subscriptions are neglected. An iPhone app has changed what I read.

I’ve been using an iPhone app at the gym called iFitness. It shows you (and illustrates) a list of exercises for each muscle group, then gives you a place to track the amount of weight you’re lifting, number of repetitions, and so on. Because I consult with this thing constantly while working out, I’m doing a bunch of exercise I didn’t use to do.

I used to listen to my own collection of MP3 files. I’m a cheapskate, so I rarely acquired new songs. As a result, I tended to listen to a pretty narrow range of music.

Since downloading the Pandora iPhone app, most of my music listening is Pandora music. The result is that I’m now listing to a different set of songs than I used to.

Next Page: See What’s Going On Here?

I’ve completely outsourced the remembering of things to iPhone apps as well. Every time I want to remember something, I impulsively turn to one of three apps: Evernote, reQall or the iPhone’s calendar.

That makes sense, but here’s the weird part. When I want to remember something, I find myself consulting these apps even when I actually remember it already.

I’ve come to trust my iPhone more than my own brain for the remembering of details, even though my memory is correct almost every time. I’ve come to accept, psychologically, that the iPhone apps are where my memories reside.

See What’s Going On Here?

The world of iPhone apps is shaping my life experience, changing my expectations, determining what I learn, and what I know and how I think.

I tend to value things that are associated with iPhone apps, and discount things that have no such association.

I could justify all this by saying that the iPhone and the universe of available apps collectively represent a life-changing, culture shifting phenomenon. But the truth is there’s an impulsive quality to it all that goes behind mere utility.

I’ve been using cell phones with applications for years. I was a very early adopter of the Palm phones, which had downloadable software long ago. And I’ve owned BlackBerrys, and used those apps as well.

But there’s something fundamentally different about the iPhone and its universe of applications. They are so easy to install, so appealing to use and so powerful that the iPhone has become categorically different from any other device.

The psychological reaction to the iPhone is something that transcends geeky gadget preference, gadget addiction or even gadget snobbery. It’s a full-blown personality disorder.

The affliction filters life experience through the narrow prism of whether or not “there’s an app for that.” It creates bias in our choices. It directs what we think about and how we think about it.

Have you got iPhone Disease? If so, I’d love to hear how it has changes what you do, how you think and how you live: Leave a comment below.

ALSO SEE: Waiting for Your iPhone: Five Ways to Handle the Unbearable Stress

AND: Cool iPhone Apps: 49 Top Apps for Work and Play

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