I'm fond of telling a story about how fifteen years ago I read an article about how cellphones were much more prevalent in some East Asian country (Singapore? South Korea?). Something like 95% of the population had a cellphone. But the proliferation of phones didn't strike me so much as another statistic: apparently half of those phones had never made a voice call. Instead, people used their phones for SMS, little games, and PDA functions.
I prophesied then that in 2050 everyone would have a little computer in their pocket which they would call a “phone”, but few people would even remember where the name “phone” came from.
The emergence of the ubiquitous Little Pocket Computer has come faster than I expected. The iPhone assumes that one does not want a phone that also does other things; one wants a pocket computer which has “telephone” as one among many functions. The other smartphones have drifted the same way.
Alexis C. Madrigal at The Atlantic has canvassed a bunch of folks about The Phone Of 2022. It seems that this transition to “phone” not meaning telephone has taken hold in everyone's minds. Indeed, the article quickly becomes a discussion of computing interfaces.
“It's not clear to me that there is any such device as the phone in 2022. Already, telephony has become a feature and not even a frequently used feature of those things we put in our pockets. Telephony as a purpose built device is going away, as it's been going away for the TV and the radio,” Clay Shirky said to me, when I asked him to speculate. “So what are the devices we have in our pockets?”
The article contains the usual windy futurism. I don't mean that as a criticism; I love me some windy futurism. But more than any of the technologies it talks about, I find it interesting that even a journalist with column inches to fill assumes now that telephony does not define a “phone”.