Telephone Communications

How much impact could smartphones have on society?
Answered by Bran Ferren
  • Bran Ferren

    Bran Ferren

  1. Bran Ferren Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer, Applied Minds


    The simple message is, in a very short period of time, there are an astonishing number of people with cell phones -- using them, leading productive lives, enhancing the quality of their life, etc., and in some cases, diminishing the quality of their life.

    This notion of smartphones, where you blurred the line between what is a computer, what is a storytelling device like a book or a television, and what is a communications device? That's what I mean by a transition -- is this ability to have these extraordinarily technologically advanced assets. Twenty or 30 years ago, you couldn't have imagined building something like a contemporary iPhone, smartphone. You couldn't have imagined the technology to do it.

    Now having said that, it turns out a handful of people did imagine it, and you look at people like Alan Kay and the Dynabook, which predicted the personal computer many years before. Why is it difficult for people to think about these things? First of all, because you have to imagine a whole series of technologies happening, like flat-panel displays, like wireless communications, like a global network that could be put in place to do things.

    Well, flat-panel displays, when we were doing cathode ray tubes, there's nothing about the cathode ray tube that allowed it to transform itself to that. There was nothing about wireless 30 years ago that suggested why little tiny, low-powered devices (millions of them) could all exist in the same ecosystem. There was no business model that said you could give away search. There was no business model that said someone else is going to pay to put in this whole infrastructure at a price that is going to be affordable.

    So very few people are capable of, one, making a single leap to believe something like a flat-panel display can happen or that wireless can happen. If you can do that, can you imagine five or six more? Then, the important thing is can you imagine how our behaviors as humans can be transformed with these? A few people do, and they give us these visions, and then we look back after thinking "Well, that's pretty odd" and "This guy is a crackpot or this gal has no idea what she's talking about." We look back and say "Well, yeah, this has always been completely sensible and we understand it."

    It's important to note that, effectively, every major idea in technology that has changed the course of our civilization -- and whether this is electric light, whether this is the airplane, whether it's the telephone, whether it's the camera that's photographing this, whether it's almost any part of it -- there was never an established need for.

    In fact, if you went and questioned people and said, "Hey, what do you think of this?" their answer would be, "Well, I have no use for that. I don't understand its relevance," etc., which is why the true innovations in our world come from people who are focused, relentless, passionate, and dedicated to getting these ideas to happen. The fact that nobody else gets it doesn't slow them down a bit. In fact, sometimes they draw energy from the fact that they believe they're right, and that nobody else understands it.


    More answers from Bran Ferren »

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