man walking mobile phone

As a self-confessed geek I was really excited about the recent reboot of The X-Files.

What do you mean you missed it?

It was on Channel 5. Mulder and Scully reunited, running around in search of little green (or grey) men, waving torches and guns and taking irksome calls from bigwigs at the J. Edgar Hoover Building on their smartphones.

Over the years we’ve seen our dynamic duo test the battery lives of various mobile phone models.  The Nokia 6110  had a starring role in one season and featured prominently in an X-Files PC game. A quick Google image search will return any number of pictures of the world’s favourite alien chaser in multi-storey car parks in a mac with an enormous brick to his ear. And in the first season, they didn’t even have phones – having instead to make do with stops at motel reception desks to phone home.

Nowadays, the FBI’s most unwanted rely on devices a little more advanced to help them work, rest and play. Although episode seven of the latest season suggests that the writers are a little alarmed about the prevalence of connected tech and AI around us every day.

But just how different are these smartphone-enriched times after season 11 of The X-Files, to our lives in those dark, deviceless days before Scully was sent to debunk the work of her future friend?

Always on

Well, for starters we’re never out of reach any more. Although we’re beholden to our phones’ batteries to a degree, we’re able to receive calls and messages all the time. As a kid, I remember making plans to meet friends and then being at a specific place at a specific time without fail. Nowadays you can leave the house without knowing where you’re going. And if you’re late, just drop a quick message to the person you’re meeting and they needn’t sit there wondering whether you’re ever going to show up.

And we don’t just keep in touch with those nearby or who feature in our day-to-day lives. Facebook has given us all the ability not just to stay in touch with friends in far-flung places, but to see photos and videos they share and chat to them on Messenger as well.  WhatsApp has one-upped the mobile networks’ SMS systems and given us the ability to chat to people via text for free anywhere in the world.

Beyond our friends and family, we’re also more connected than ever to our favourite musicians, TV shows, sports teams, publications, political parties, brands and anything else that might be of interest.  If your phone’s anything like mine, there are notifications popping up all the time, demanding attention and laying claim to your precious time.

Some of this connectedness can be a little shady. Recent news stories about how end users’ data is shared with (and used by) online platforms and advertisers has opened people’s eyes to ways in which they can be targeted online, using data collected from a number of sources, not least your phone. Did you know that if you have Google Maps on your phone, it could be tracking where you go and when you go there? That data could be used to serve you ads that are deemed appropriate. If that freaks you out, you might want to check and switch it off.

Losing the art of getting lost

There’s a positive to Google Maps though. We need never get lost any more! I remember the first time I saw a sat nav and thinking it was real game changer.  Now we all have a personal one in our pockets.

Whether walking or driving, Google Maps renders your A-Z (remember them?!) null and void. Then there are apps especially for cyclists and ramblers.

And if you look at your map app and find that you’re a long way from home, thanks to Uber (or our friends at Cannon Cars) you can just open an app, it locates you and a car appears to take you home!

Putting the me in media

The mobile phone has completely changed the way we consume media.  Whilst the launch of iPlayer and other catch-up services changed when we watched TV, the mobile variants of these apps have changed how and where we now watch TV. Before this year’s World Cup, Digilant claimed that  280m people would watch matches on mobile devices.
YouTube continues its sensational growth. Over a billion hours of video are watched per day on Google’s video platform.  In the US, YouTube reaches more 18-34 year olds than any of the TV networks.  You don’t need stats from traditional broadcasters to appreciate that YouTube must be having an impact on their businesses.

Music is changed too.  iTunes shook up the music industry, by allowing people to buy and download music on demand, rather than queue up in a branch of Our Price to buy an LP, cassette or CD.  But then streaming services like Spotify reinvented that industry again.

Driven to distraction

As we do more with our phones, people increasingly question whether or not they’re good for us.  It’s now considered possible to suffer from smartphone addiction.

We spend so much time with our attention centred on these devices, that it seems a natural question to ask.  Indeed, the next iterations of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating systems, will come with built-in “wellbeing” functions that check how much time you spend on your phone and what apps you use the most.

Whether or not smartphone addiction is a thing, it’s clear that they can be a dangerous distraction when attention should be elsewhere, like when you’re driving. Recently the BBC reported that a new road sign is being trialled that detects whether a mobile is in use in a car and flashes up a warning to drivers.

A world of information, just a tap away

One of the great benefits of the internet – access to a world of data and knowledge – is really amplified when you consider mobile devices. We walk around with a device that can connect us with the answer to most of the questions we could ask day-to-day.  Maybe you want to know how to hang a picture, or how to tie a tie.  Or you might need to find a local locksmith or plumber.

In fact, according to Google: Looking for something nearby—a coffee shop, noodle restaurant, shoe store—is one of the most common searches we do. In fact, nearly one-third of all mobile searches are related to location.

That’s why having a responsive website and employing local SEO tactics are so important. People are asking questions and local businesses need to help Google understand that they could be the right answer.

All this access to information can make life – and pub quizzes – much easier.

And who knows – it might have made the hunt for evidence of alien life a little easier for Mulder and Scully.

The truth might well be out there. But I have a world of data, knowledge and media in my pocket.

Image: creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo shared by Roberto Trombetta