How the iPhone triggered the fastest, most pervasive social revolution in human history — The Age of Connectivism

Chapter One: Why did the iPhone succeed?

The iPhone was the first device to capture all three human information gathering modes — grazing, browsing and hunting — in an easy to use mobile device. It’s inspired design ignited the Age of Connectivism

2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the Apple iPhone and the beginning of what I call the Age of Connectivism — already the fastest and most pervasive social evolution in human history.

Connectivism is splitting Homo sapiens into two sub-species — “homo futuris” and “homo pastis” — those who embrace our connected future and those who don’t. Which are you and why? Which will shape our future?

Global adoption of smartphone functionality, combined with the internet, is changing the world for individual people in ways not seen since the printing press and the automobile — two of history’s greatest agents for freedom of thought and action.

On vacation in Bosnia — ©2017, M. Heyer

Already, untold millions of young people are growing up never having known a world without iPhone/smartphone technology. Smartphone penetration is approaching half of the world’s population.

For human society, connectivism represents a seismic shift in the design of our civilizations. Like lumbering dinosaurs, the old top-down, command-driven, information-limited (and limiting) hierarchies are dying.

Society is rearranging itself into rapidly evolving, flexible, diffuse and participatory networks that can respond and adapt almost instantly. People are moving their identities and businesses out of geographical nation states and into global connected organizations. Already, almost one-forth of the world’s population is on Facebook. Bitcoin could spell the end of national monetary systems.

Will our new global connectivist institutions and societies become more egalitarian, empathic, responsive and responsible? Will they lead us to environmental sustainability? Will they end unrelenting tribal warfare?
In my view, there are few more important questions facing humanity as we race forward into our connected future.

This short article is the first chapter in an ongoing exploration of our connected future. How can each of us and all of us together act to shape and direct its progress?

In the beginning…

My story about the origins of connectivism and the importance of the iPhone begins in the 1980s.

While working for Sony as a pioneer of “interactive media” I researched the question of how humans use and value information, using algorithms with functions like latency, bandwidth and control.

However, when using these terms in briefings to corporate executives, their eyes would instantly glaze over. They would fidget and start glancing anxiously at their watches (not having even cell phones in 1980).

Therefore, I converted the concepts into three simple words, which turned out to be quite useful over the years.

As you will see, these descriptions even predicted the success of the iPhone.

Humans gather information in exactly three ways: Grazing, browsing and hunting

Grazing - Passively receiving information — plays, movies, television, reading a novel or listening to music. Technically, the audience has no direct control over the content. Sitting in front of the TV in an alpha trance, eyes wide open, information good or bad flowing in.

Browsing — Cruising over a large information space with no explicit target in mind. Wandering in shopping malls or internet browsing (this is why it’s called a “web-browser”). Humans love browsing above all else — the surprise, novelty and serendipity of finding new pleasures.

Hunting — When you know exactly what you are looking for and use the most efficient means to find it. Early computers were only good for hunting and required an expert for even that. After many search companies tried, Google succeeded at bringing computer hunting to the masses.

Before movies, radio and television…

Before the era of movies, radio and television, **grazing** was confined to reading books, going to occasional live performances or listening to Uncle Harold tell stories.

People might **hunt** for their favorite magazine, **browse** through it and find an interesting story to **graze** on. Grazing material was not all that easy to come by and it did not dominate how most people spent their time.

The age of the grazers

The advent of movies, radio and television created generations of passive grazers. Grazing puts the human brain in an alpha trance, suppressing critical thinking. While you are watching a movie, do you think about an alternate story line? You don’t. You are grazing. Your job is to sit quietly and inhale the story as it is being told.

Radio, TV and movie media, controlled by only a few powerful elites, can mass-indoctrinate entire populations of grazers. Radio-centric WWII was personified by three great _orators_ — Roosevelt, Hitler and Churchill. Not long after the war, consumerism took over the new medium of television, bringing unlimited addictive grazing and advertising into the home.

Images of people zoned out in front of the television, minds blank, waiting to be infected with consumerist viruses or political propaganda are a global cultural icon.

Endless marketing of junk food and products to people who have turned off their critical thinking skills correlate with, if not cause, epidemics like unhealthy diets, rampant consumer debt and poor education. “Entertaining ourselves to death” has unfortunately become a lifestyle for too many.

The Age of Connectivism is changing the game, taking control away from the media elites and giving it back to the people. It can’t happen fast enough for me.

The metamorphosis of connectivism

Early computers were business tools. There was no such thing as a “personal” computer. But in the early days of the 1975 Silicon Valley, geeks in the Homebrew Computer Club, including Steve Jobs, saw a revolutionary future for personal computers.

Then, starting in 1982, mobile telephones rocketed to success. They exponentially expanded the primary way that humans _exchange_ personal information — conversation and then text messages.

Right up to 2007, mobile phones remained telephone-centric — festooned with incomprehensible buttons, opaque operating systems, little or no ability to run advanced programs and awkward media management. Doing anything other than phone calls and texts on those tiny screens was a painful experience. _You worked for the phone, it did not work for you._

The iPhone stakes its claim to the future

Through all my years of working with new information technologies and teaching multimedia, my mantra was:

“It’s the job of technology to work for people. It is not the job of people to work for technology.”

Apple computer, from its founding in 1976, focused on user-centric design. By 1979, Apple revolutionized computing with the mouse and graphical user interface.

More than any other corporate leader, Steve Jobs embraced the philosophy of making computer technology work for people and manifested it in the real world. Steve understood how people use and value information.

Apple’s famous 1984 commercial foretold Steve’s vision for ending the grip of the Grazing Era.

Why 1984 won’t be like 1984 ©Apple

Twenty years later in 2007, Mr. Jobs stunned the world with his revolutionary vision, the iPhone. What were the unique characteristics of this technology product that would inspire the Age of Connectivism?

Most important, the iPhone was the first hand-held computer to incorporate all three information gathering modes — you could easily graze on movies or music, browse the internet and hunt on Google — anywhere, any time — all on one portable device.

In addition:

1) The iPhone had a “large” color touch screen, making movies and flexible control software possible and user friendly. This spelled the end of hard-wired telephone buttonology.

2) The iPhone was and is a computer platform open to developers. Smartphone apps are creating immense human value.

3) With a phone, camera and fluid operating system, ordinary people became content creators and distributors, making and sharing media and thoughts from wherever they happen to be.

The world beats a path to the better mousetrap

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and the iPhone is certainly the most imitated technology concept in modern history. Despite hundreds of knockoff designs and huge incremental improvements, the basic layout and features of the original iPhone have remained essentially constant over _ten years_ and across all manufacturers including the legions of Android brands.

Welcome to the Age of Connectivism

Freed from the shackles of the desktop, people are using iPhones/smartphones for learning and thinking and doing in the real world. We are talking and interacting with our fellow humans in new and evolving ways in quantities and qualities never before experienced in human history.

Mobile computers and communication are now essential parts of our animated daily real world existence, almost as important as our biological bodies.

We’ve all seen it — people on vacation, all texting on their phones — with friends around the world or even with each other.

Since everyone has a camera all the time, our smartphones serve as an extension of our biological memory. Never before possible, people now record and share events in real time. Videos taken by private citizens are proving to be both important news sources and tools for preventing abuse by authorities.

At a tea plantation in Malaysia. ©2017, M. Heyer

Personal access to information channels is expanding geometrically. From the basic internet to email, texting, voice, video and now animojis. From Facebook to YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, Wikipedia, Waze and hundreds more. Then there are the millions of blogs, websites, companies and online publications. We can hunt for and use information while on the move faster and more effectively than ever before in human history.

The 2017 iPhone X introduces face recognition and augmented reality. After gestating within the industry for decades, they add profound new capabilities that enhance and expand our experience and consciousness. In ten more years, we will not be able to (or at least not want to) live without these features, just as we can’t live without texting today.

There is no turning back

When asked in surveys whether people would rather lose all access to their mobile devices or have their left arm cut off, most people say they would give up the arm, although I’ve not personally seen it happen. However, life as we know it does seems to depend on our ability to connect (and a supply of electricity!).

Will our newfound capabilities lead us to a utopian future of personal freedom to create and produce, or to every tightening social constraints, as in Dave Eggers’ dystopian world of The Circle?

To the future

How will we each play our part? As a passive grazer, or an active and involved futuris hunter, sharing our wealth of wisdom and knowledge with the world? Which tribe will you join? Homo pastis, or homo futuris?

This article is a brief introduction to the Age of Connectivism. It opens the door for an extended conversation about how evolving connectivism will transform our world and affect all of us over the next ten years and more.

In that spirit, I hope you will join me on this most interesting expedition.

Clap if you liked this and might be interested in following. I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and suggestions. You may contact me directly at markh@heyertech.com.

Postscripts

  1. As I am writing this piece, a charming example of connectivism showed up. Barely 72 hours after the iPhone X with its animoji technology went on public sale, an entire global subculture of people making animoji karaoke emerged.Dozens of examples landed in my message boxes and on [Reddit.com]. And now, three days later, it has expanded to movie scenes, political satire and even iPhone product reviews. A global art form that emerged in less than a week. Now that’s connectivism!
  2. The origin of connectivism: The term connectivisim was promoted beginning around 2004 to describe networked eductional environments, notably by Siemans and Downes. Their early work preceded the advent of the smartphone, but is broadly applicable to my current use of the term expanded to include all members of society on a mobile and daily basis.
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