The AtlanticThe Atlantic

What did people do before smartphones?

By Ian Bogost

07 Jul 2023 · 5 min read

informed Summary

  1. Writing in The Atlantic, Ian Bogost notes that the BlackBerry was the first device to inject digital events into the ordinary world, marking the beginning of the smartphone age.

In 2000, I got the RIM 957, my first BlackBerry. It received, in real time, emails sent to my work account. Such receipt would cause the device to flash a light and buzz, pager-style. It buzzed constantly. When set just right on the counter, the vibrations would resonate through stone and lumber, alerting the whole room: An email has arrived!

Sometimes you can feel the future’s shadow looming over the present—formless, cold, Lovecraftian. So it was with the BlackBerry. Its capacity to inject digital events into the ordinary world even when they weren’t wanted inaugurated the smartphone age: one of constant online life everywhere. But it wasn’t like that yet. Back then mostly executives had the new device, and government officials, and people who thought they were important. (I was the last kind; I made software.) My co-workers and especially my wife were repulsed by the “CrackBerry,” and my compulsive grasping at it, like Gollum with his ring.

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