the fellowship of the device

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Many of you will recall JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy where one ring of power was able to rule all others, enabling it to ensure its bidding alone was done. Well, applying this logic to Apple’s iPhone it becomes clear this is the one device of power that ensures its bidding alone is done. More than a billion have been sold since its launch a decade ago and it’s not only the bestselling mobile phone in history, it’s also the bestselling camera, music-player, computer and video screen. The iPhone is almost without peer as the ultimate product of capitalism.

And it wasn’t even a particularly innovative product. Lithium batteries were developed by Exxon during the first oil crisis of the early 70s. Touchscreen technology was developed by a gifted engineer to alleviate his own carpal tunnel syndrome. Even the great man himself was not instrumental to the product’s initiation and much of the early work was specifically hidden from Jobs as it was widely accepted he’d have immediately put the kybosh on it. It was believed he would have seen the development of yet another mobile, in direct competition with Nokia, Ericsson & Motorola, as a spectacular waste of time.

How prescient then, that the ubiquitous device is now being cited as one of the single-most reasons for our nation’s rapidly and, well documented, declining productivity figures. It’s no coincidence that, as The Bank of England’s recent analysis highlights, productivity began to fall in 2007, the same year the super-smart product enjoyed its highly successful launch. As subsequent sales figures soared, productivity plunged. And we’re all as guilty as one another.

We all know how easy it is to be distracted and waylaid: that moment of clickbait weakness that turns into lost hours of mindless surfing. Furthermore, in today’s modern, egalitarian office we’re all generalists and everything is either expected of us, or taken-on by us. Design a pretty presentation, write some attention-grabbing copy, hunt around for the most relevant Dilbert comic strip cartoon to lighten the mood at the next middle-management meeting and there’s the afternoon gone. Pop the perfect networking post onto your LinkenIn profile, slate the hotel the boss chose for the imagineering night away, sign-up for the competition’s podcast and, oh, it’s clocking-off time. The iPhone makes all this possible, and it becomes a mildly entertaining way of whiling away the work hours of an average day. It’s certainly the most successful weapon of mass distraction we’ve ever seen.