Our Glorious Phone Progress

You might be annoyed with people playing with their phones all the time, but that’s just jealousy. If you’d improved as much as phones in the last decade we wouldn’t just be hypnotized by your brilliance, we’d be legally obliged to worship you as Emperor of Everything. Phone technology has evolved in ways which would make Skynet green with envy, and obsolete, and it’s nowhere near done. If they’d had mobiles in the nineteenth century they wouldn’t have doubted natural selection (seeing the exact same process in how flawed phones are killed off by superior models) and spent most of the century texting “OMG Evolution is SO good u guys!!”

To prove it, we’re looking at phone habits we’ve left behind in living memory.

1. The Speaking Clock

Tell anyone under thirty about the speaking clock and they’ll assume it’s an app, and a rather limited one at that. And they’ll be right. It’s one case where correcting the whippersnappers makes you sound like the stupid one. “You mean you used an entire phone to find out what time it is, in an era where everything down to the calculator had a cheap digital clock in it?” It’s like explaining why you used to rub sticks together to create fire – it made sense at the time, but now it seems terribly backward.

2. Phone Books

Tyrannosaurs. Capes. Jousting tournaments. All the cool or kickass things which became obsolete or extinct, and the one we got to keep is phonebooks. It’s such a waste. A waste of an entire forest printing up millions of unwanted directories, and of the thousands of man-hours it takes to lug most of them directly to the dump. Many landfills now have yellow rings, like trees, layers of processed wood which tell you when each year passed as tonnes of these stupid things are tipped directly into the rubbish.

If you’re wondering why they keep printing them, and resisting attempts to make it “by request only”, it’s because they’re paid for adverts and apparently advertisers only read the “Millions delivered every year!” and not the implied “To people who hate them!” bit.Whatever your opinion on the papery blocks, smartphones make them as essential as a spare appendix. Siri can find what you want by listening to you, and even the dumbest browser is faster and easier than thumbing through three pages of 4-point type.

3. Contact Book

Another entry in the “not so much progress as realizing we put up with a lot of rubbish” list. We used to have phones, a huge network of machines designed to put us in contact with people, but it was our job to remember the long strings of numbers to make it work. It’s like carrying a bicycle to work – that kind of job was exactly what machines were made for, and it didn’t occur to us that having to write down sequences of digits like an autistic Sudoku solver might not be the most efficient way of doing things.

Nowadays we don’t even have to touch a phone to make a call if we don’t want to. Just like the 1s and 0s of a computer program, all the numbers that make things work are safely hidden behind a friendly interface we can actually use. We’ve all had that moment of total confusion when a number pops up on the screen. “Who is this person?” you wonder, baffled by the lunacy of a machine flashing a ten digit code at you and expecting you to know what it means. If we’d wanted to deal with ridiculous input codes we never expected to use, we’d work in nuclear missile silos.

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