In 2012 mobile phone penetration in the Australian market stood at around 70%. But in 2012 the people keeping track of these things were still classifying ‘mobiles’ as different to ‘smart phones’. The first iPhone was launched only five years before that.
Today that differentiation an historical curiosity, and market penetration is just under 90%. That’s 90% of the entire population, mind you. And if you think that getting higher than that will be impossible, look to Scandinavia and to New Zealand which have higher core numbers of actual phones and over 100% penetration of phone accounts as many people have more than one.
The growth in take-up of phones is something we seem to forget. It’s hardly surprising that we’re not sure how to deal with the mechanics of mobile phone use in our society when we’ve had only ten or 15 years to come to terms with their ubiquity; less than that to understand the smart phone and the fact it is so much more than a phone.
What made me think of this? Well there was an article recently on the hot topic of banning phones in schools. The principal of one of Sydney’s top private girls schools was quoted saying that they controlled phones tightly because she had taught in schools where the kids just sat around all day on social media. That didn’t seem to ring right.
The principal in question has been at her school since 2014 and was with her previous school for some time before that. Now they are top private schools so their kids might well be early adopters of technology – but it’s still hard to reconcile the statement with reality. Go back to 2008 and no one was spending all day on social media on their phone. I’m not blaming the principal in question for her statement – it’s just a stark example of how we’ve quickly lost sight of the ridiculous speed with which smart phones have overtaken us.
We all seem to forget that having a camera, the internet, and all the other smart phone features in our pocket is a new thing, it simply hasn’t been around for more than a few years. We’ve accepted the new normal as if it has always been with us.
And that thought should be colouring our reaction to the phone. First because it’s a mistake to just ban things we don’t yet understand. It’s foolish to make blanket statements about the way thing are, let along what they were like five years ago, when things are developing at such a ridiculously rapid rate. The need for access to a phone could well be entirely different in another five years than it is today – and it’s hard for legislative bans to keep up with that speed of change.
Secondly because with the growth being so quick, we’re acting like King Canute if we think we can stop the tide coming towards us. We need to control it, direct it to good, make sense of it – stopping it is not an option.