In this short pamphlet, Nicole Aschoff analyzes the “smartphone society” presenting the argument that just as the automobile defined the twentieth century, the smartphone is defining the twenty-first. The essay provides a good starting point for a critique of smartphones and their place in the world, looking at how they are produced, how they are used, how they shape society, and how they commodify our identities. While it could go deeper at times, it offers many provocative points for discussion and should encourage deeper conversations about smartphones and the digital economy.
The Smartphone Society
The automobile was in many respects the defining commodity of the twentieth century. Its importance didn’t stem from technological virtuosity or the sophistication of the assembly line, but rather from an ability to reflect and shape society. The ways in which we produced, consumed, used, and regulated automobiles were a window into twentieth-century capitalism itself — a glimpse into how the social, political, and economic intersected and collided. Today, in a period characterized by financialization and global ization, where “information” is king, the idea of any commodity defining an era might seem quaint. But commodities are no less important today, and people’s relationships to them remain central to understanding society. If the automobile was fundamental to grasping the last century, the smartphone is the defining commodity of our era.