What if that’s your last phone?

The ubiquity of mobile phone technology makes the idea that you could be holding your last ever phone seem slightly ridiculous. Barring catastrophes, why would we suddenly stop using a technology we so evidently love? Because we basically already have.

What is a phone exactly?

We still call the devices we use so much ‘phones,’ but it’s increasingly obvious that the difference between a phone, a phablet and a tablet is… whatever manufacturers can get us to say it is. The device you can send your emails from, browse the web via apps or browsers or both, take pictures and communicate via instant message , will also let you make voice calls. And that’s about all it has in common with the old cord-and-handset machines we used to call phones. (Speaking of which, as of 2013, about 30% of Americans didn’t have a landline at all!)
What do we actually use our phones for?

The telephone is for talking to people. But increasingly, that doesn’t describe our phones at all. what we actually do with them is move data. And the amount we’re moving is huge and growing.

Something else that seems to be huge and growing is the phones themselves, and the same cause is at the root of both effects. That would be the 4G technology known as LTE. LTE lets you move gigantic quantities of data over 4G networks, but it’s energy-hungry. Hence the size of phones, which are growing to accommodate bigger batteries in back and bigger screens in front.

Even when you do make a phone call, it’s not really a phone call

You talk into a phone and your voice is turned into electronic signals and transmitted. That was true when you had to wind phones up and it’s still true. but the way it’s done has changed fundamentally. 3G and older cell networks used dedicated connections to move your voice: virtual landlines, preserving the phone-ness of phone calls. But 4G and LTE don’t do that. Your voice becomes data packets, just like the rest of the internet. Even when you make a phone call, you’re really using a technology that has more in common with Facetime or Skype than with anything Alexander Graham Bell would have recognised. You might already have had your last phone.


Posted on: 02.13.15