Mobile apps are so entrenched in our daily lives it's easy to forget their impact. But apps have truly changed the world.
Throughout time, technology has changed how we interact with the world, each other, and ourselves. In centuries past, the compass enhanced our ability to explore, the steam engine revolutionized our ability to perform difficult tasks, and the printing press radically changed the way we circulate information.
In this century, we've seen artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and autonomous cars. But the technology that has most drastically changed our daily lives is the one in our pockets. We often look at smartphones and the apps they contain as mere entertainment, but it's hard to ignore how phone apps have changed the world.
It's interesting to consider life before the phone or telegraph. In those days, most people didn't travel much further than their hometowns. Because of that, one's social circle was kept relatively small, further necessitating social acceptance. Even if you did have social connections beyond your hometown, communication was kept by letters, making it challenging—though not impossible—to maintain a relationship.
Because of social media apps such as Facebook and Instagram, messenger apps like Facetime and Zoom, and even dating apps like Tinder or Bumble, our social circle has expanded beyond those in close proximity. Those of us who feel outcasted by their immediate society don't have to become recluses the way they might have in previous centuries. You simply need to open an app to find their own tribe.
There's a reason for the expression "knowledge is power." Throughout history, knowledge has been entrusted to the educated few—those with access to literacy, books, and the ability to do research. Even as public libraries arrived on the scene, people were bound to whatever books were available in their section of the world.
Smartphones themselves already put an astonishing amount of information into the hands of the everyday person. But mobile apps change the world of information even further by organizing the mountains of information, making them accessible and digestible. Apps like Duolingo teach new languages, streaming services connect us to online classrooms, and teachers create new apps to augment instruction.
Employment has followed a similar model throughout time: you choose a career and remain in that profession for the majority of your life. We see this with the apprentice and the squire of yesteryear and the office worker of the 20th century. Work provides a sense of stability for workers and employers, but for some it contributes to a sense of monotony.
In recent years, we've seen a rise in the "gig economy." This model emphasizes independent workers hired for short-term employment. Rideshare services like Uber began this model, and apps like Doordash continued it. Even streaming apps like Spotify and YouTube allow creators to make a living based on their own ideas and not based on their employers' wants.
Mobile apps are now part of our society's landscape, for better or worse. Recognizing their impact will allow us to decide what kind of impact they will have in the future.