Mobile is like water. But I still see it every day.
At the beginning of his famous commencement speech known as, “This is Water”, David Foster Wallace starts with a story of two young fish swimming along who happen upon an older fish swimming the other way who nods at them and says, “morning boys, how’s the water?” The two young fish swim on for a bit and eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “what the hell is water?”
Wallace’s incredible speech goes on to emphasize the value of being “conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience”. And the immediate point of the fish story, of course, is that “the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.”
Which brings me to what is happening all around us now with mobile. I know it’s obvious but I want to talk about it for a moment. Just go to a restaurant and sit back and watch the tables. Half of them have a person on their mobile device or a mobile device sitting on the dining table in front of them. Watch a crowd before a movie starts. Same with a bus stop. Business meetings. Couches in front of the TV. Watch people walking down the street in downtown Seattle, SF or Manhattan. All the same story. We are all constantly a few feet away from our mobile device, it’s usually in our hand, and it is becoming woven into the fabric of not just our daily lives, but the way we think and act.
I wonder if kids growing up today feel like the fish in Wallace’s story, if mobile is water to them. If taking away their mobile device or asking them to marvel at its power would be like asking someone not to use one of their hands or marvel at the air we breathe.
Eight years after buying my first real smartphone (iphone), I am still personally amazed at the power and magic of the power of mobile. For me, it’s not even close to being like water. I’m still so curious about it, and can’t stop thinking about it.
One simple example from yesterday that, after it happened, I thought about 20 times the rest of the day. And this kind of thing happens every day.
I was sitting on the couch watching a documentary on Netflix, on vacation and recovering from a cold — and since I’m constantly thinking about work, I was trying to remember a passage from one of two business books I had read years ago that I wanted to send along to a colleague via email for a project we are working on. I couldn’t remember which of the books the passage was in, or the exact wording of the passage.
I opened the iBooks app on my iPhone, downloaded both books in less than 60 seconds. That includes the time it took to search for the book titles, click buy, use Touch ID to pay for them, and actually download both of the full books.
Then I used the text search feature on each book around some of the phraseology I thought remembered from the passage. Took me 30 seconds. Bam. There it was.
Highlighted. Copied. Opened up my email app and pasted and hit send.
It was almost as if I had direct access to the Internet from my brain.
I can’t believe that’s possible. And we do stuff like this on our mobile phones every day all day. Mobile may be like water for us fish now; it’s becoming more and more that way. But I still see it and marvel at it every day.