Just look around you. I have seen, all too frequently, everyone at a meal all looking at their phones, not talking to each other. Perhaps they were texting each other.

According to the BBC, people devote a third of waking time to mobile apps. Social media seems to be the essential app to have, but which one. Mention Facebook and you will probably be told that it’s only popular with the older age group. The kids don’t like it or use it.

The reality is that Facebook is still number one in revenue terms.

The actual top ten, in order of revenue are:

1. Facebook

2. YouTube

3. WhatsApp

4. Instagram

5. TikTok

6. Snapchat

7. Pinterest

8. Reddit

9. LinkedIn

10 Twitter

Nobody can deny that smartphones are everything to just about everyone. They can handle your email, take photos, handle your bank account, keep you in touch with the news, tell where you are, in fact you name it, they can do it. If you can’t find an app to do what you want, you won’t have to wait long before someone designs it. They are a computer, camera and phone combined.

30 years ago, the only phone we had was attached to a short wire. Eventually they became wireless, and you could carry the phone around the house, maybe even as far as the garden, (as long as it was a small one). 20 years ago, most of us didn’t have cell phones. 15 years ago, it was rare to carry a smartphone. With the proliferation of today’s smartphone technology, we take it for granted that we can make and change appointments, access the world’s information, map our locations, and much more in the palm of our hands.

Simple Simon was first

IBM are generally credited with inventing the first smartphone in 1992, “Simon” personal communicator. While the Simon didn’t change the world on its own, selling only 50,000 units in its sub-one-year lifespan it started the phone industries creative juices.

BlackBerry, Sony even Nokia and other devices of the time lost out in 2007 when Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. No keyboard and much more power. Google wasn’t far behind, a year later they launched Android. Now, it seems, we simply can’t do without our smartphone. Most people even take them to bed with them!

Writer Adrienne Matei wrote in The Guardian, “Before beginning to write this article, I spent 20 minutes doing, if I’m honest, sort of nothing on my phone. Prior to that, I checked emails, read the news and browsed social media in bed. My phone is usually within arm’s reach, which seems to me fairly typical of everyone, old and young, who includes a phone in their essential trifecta of belongings, alongside their keys and wallet”.

Has your smartphone taken over your life?

Would it be reasonable to speculate that smartphones have taken over our lives? On a social level, it’s hard to understate just how much smartphones have changed the way we interact with the world. Consider that asking for directions is largely a thing of the past, and that if you’re not quite sure about a certain person’s “facts,” you can get a second opinion immediately, right or wrong. Even the ability to schedule and reschedule appointments on-the-fly can’t be underestimated.

One wit observed “The world before smartphones was cold and unforgiving. People waited in lines for minutes on end without entertainment. Bar arguments ended in fisticuffs or someone finally exclaiming “I guess we’ll never know!” Ignoring friends and relatives at the dinner table required ingenuity and imagination”. They truly were dark times”. No comment!

On October 13, 1983, Ameritech Mobile Communications became the first company to launch a 1G phone network in the US. The first GSM phone, the Nokia 1011, which went on sale November 9, others followed. In 1992, many models introduced text-messaging. 3G was launched in 2001. 4G followed a few years later with much excitement, (or was it hype?) Now it’s 5G.

Are dumbphones making a comeback?

Maybe it should all have stopped at the famous Nokia 1011. Now it seems this legendry mobile is making a comeback. Its small, its simple, it makes and receives phone calls. It doesn’t demand your constant attention it just does what many people apparently want, phone calls anywhere.

BBC News recently reported on a lady identified as Ms West and her decision to ditch her former smartphone two years ago was a spur of the moment thing. While looking for a replacement handset in a second-hand shop she was lured by the low price of a "brick phone".

"I didn't notice until I bought a brick phone how much a smartphone was taking over my life," she says. "I had a lot of social media apps on it, and I didn't get as much work done as I was always on my phone."

The Londoner adds that she doesn't think she'll ever buy another smartphone. "I'm happy with my brick - I don't think it limits me. I'm definitely more proactive."

To quote BBC again, “And while sales figures are hard to come by, one report said that global purchases of dumbphones were due to hit one billion units last year, up from 400 million in 2019. This compares to worldwide sales of 1.4 billion smart phones last year, following a 12.5% decline in 2020”.

Is it time to think again?

Is your smartphone taking over your life? Can you go more than thirty minutes without consulting it about social media or news or the state of your health. Can you turn your phone off at night and relax? Have you the courage to see how much time you are spending looking at your smartphone? Look for an app called Social Fever – it’s free, I dare you.


Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy. 

Paul Luckman