I read an article recently which said that although Android is now the UK’s favourite type of smartphone, iPhone owners spend the most time on their handsets. I can believe this. I am one of those iPhone addicts who stares lovingly at my phone on the tube. Who panics, thinking it’s been stolen, when I’ve put it in a different section of my handbag.
So I was downloading the Sonic the Hedgehog app on my phone the other day (only about a quid for the full version that I played on the Sega Mega Drive aged 8 – amazing) and I got thinking how I could never have imagined then that aged 25 I would be playing the equivalent of a Game Boy in public. Kids played them, not adults. I would have been horrified to see parents playing Game Boys on the go. Admittedly, the tube may have been full of Game Boy-ing city workers back in the 90s for all I know, but to me, the thought would have been absurd.
Smartphones are hugely useful, yes, but they are also hugely fun. Their undeniably practical use makes it acceptable to use them for game playing. Because you aren’t some loser carting around a gaming console with you. No, you are a responsible adult who needs a phone for work; an adult who just happens to be playing Angry Birds to pass the time whilst travelling to a destination where you are busy and important. It’s the perfect smokescreen.
Our smartphones aren’t really phones anymore. Sure, they make phone calls, but I use my iPhone more for the internet and apps and texting and music. When my digital camera broke last year I didn’t bother buying another one because the camera on my ‘phone’ is so good. Tablets aren’t marketed as phones although they can make calls (admittedly their size makes them a bit too Dom Joly “HELLO? I’M ON MY MOBILE!” to be taken seriously). With tablets, other functions are given due prominence. Calling a smartphone a phone is now more a case of habit than an apt description: I think it’s likely that the term ‘phone’ will be dropped within the next few years.
My generation is the first to grow up with video games, and I think this is part of the reason for the gaming smartphone phenomenon. We have short attention spans and a need to be constantly entertained.
I also think these smart ‘toys’ are part of a greater cultural change – there is increasingly less pressure to grow up. With more people going to uni and having kids later (due to the huge cost of raising children, low entry level wages and high property prices), being mid-twenties doesn’t feel too different to being 18. My parents might argue that my generation is unwilling to accept responsibility. However, with little external pressure to grow up, understandably people are keen to keep their freedom as long as possible. And that includes the freedom to play Sonic the Hedgehog on your smart ‘toy’ in public.