Societal changes take place so slowly that we rarely see them unfold on a day-to-day basis. Our culture and lifestyles adapt so quickly to new technology that we soon can't remember life without the latest innovation. But when we look back over any significant period of time, the scale of change is truly breathtaking.
Today, smartphones are such a part of the culture that it's hard to believe they've only been around for a decade. But the smartphone era began just 10 years ago with the June 29, 2007 release of the iPhone. Time magazine hailed it as the 2007 Invention of the Year and more than a billion iPhones have been sold since that time.
Even the stunning sales total understates the magnitude of the transformation. Today, more than half the entire world's population uses a smartphone. Every one of them has access to more information than the President of the United States could call upon just a generation or two ago.
Economist Mark Perry says the iPhone is "perhaps the most remarkable and revolutionary consumer product ever introduced." To support that claim, Perry cited a 2014 article with a telling headline: "Everything from the 1991 Radio Shack Ad I Now Do with my Phone."
Radio Shack billed itself in those days as America's Technology Store. Fourteen of the items in the 1991 ad are now available in a smartphone: personal stereo, AM/FM clock radio, headphones, calculator, computer, VHS camcorder, mobile cell phone, regular speed dial phone, portable CD player, mobile CB radio, desktop scanner, phone answering machine, cassette tape recorder and radar detector.
Adjusting for inflation, those 14 items would cost $5,614 today. Instead, you can get it all on an iPhone for under $500. Or, you can pay around $30 a month to enjoy the benefits of this amazing breakthrough. And, your phone can also provide a bunch of other services available in 1991 that weren't in the Radio Shack ad -- things like cameras, stopwatches, newspapers, language translators and more.
As if that wasn't enough, the iPhone can do all kinds of things that weren't possible or even dreamed of in 1991. Just think for a moment about all the new services like text messaging, GPS and music streaming. Or the ability to watch movies, TV shows and sports on your phone.
What a bargain! And what unbelievable progress.
The cultural change brought about by the iPhone is a great example of how progress comes from outside the political process. It changed the world by serving consumers.
But, make no mistake about it -- this massive cultural change is also shaking up the world of politics. The hundreds of millions of smartphones owned by Americans today reflects the greatest force for change in our nation's history.
"The devices and connectivity so essential to modern life put unprecedented power in the hands of every individual," according to Harvard's Nicco Mele. This is "a radical redistribution of power that our traditional institutions don't and perhaps can't understand." As if that wasn't enough, he adds, "Radical connectivity is toxic to traditional power structures."
Transferring power from 20th century bureaucracies to everyday Americans is yet another reason to celebrate the birth of the iPhone.
Happy Birthday, iPhone. And, thank you.