Ode to the iPhone

“I have to write about my iPhone”, I told Francesca in no uncertain words, “I have to”. If she had grown up in Northern Germany, she would have sighed “Wat mut, dat mut-What must be done must be done”. As she grew up in Hessen and is a very polite American, she just looked at me, slightly surprised, and said: “Oh, well …”.

Now I don´t know what to write. Or better, I know what to write about: The joy of feeling the smooth surface of my iPhone, its lightness and the fact that it always feels warm. The deep pleasure I derive from the elegant software solutions. The feeling of a treasure hunt when I check in into the store and find new ingenious mini-applications that cost next to nothing. The satisfaction to be part of a community that loves form and function combined.  

Furthermore, I would muse about the basic principle of the iPhone, the prinicple to react only when touched. This sensibility makes the iPhone part of the human race. No wonder I immediately understood what my son intented to say when he  described a girl as “beautiful like an iPhone”.

This I wanted to write when I proposed this weeks topic, but can I really do this without sounding ridiculous? A middleaged German falling in love with a mobile phone? I recently read an essay on how we can´t write poems any more, as  advertising has taken the place of poetry. The art of expressing strong emotions in poems has changed into the art of influencing saturated people with commercials.

I´m not paid by Steve Jobs, but I love his style. If he had lived in Germany 80 years ago, he probably would have been a member of the “Bauhaus”, an arts-and-crafts movement that searched for the ideal relationship of form and function. Bauhaus created the famous steel-and-leather chair  that decorates sophisticated offices all over the world. The Bauhaus created no-frill architecture and industrial design. It would have created the iPhone, had mobile phone technology already existed in 1920.

That mobiles didn´t exist before the 1980ies must be the most astonishing fact I ever told my son: “You grew up in a world without mobile phones? You want me to believe in the tooth fairy, too?”

Yes. Once upon a time there was a world when people would show up for a date at the time agreed on, rather than send an SMS that they will be late. Once upon at time, there was a world where I found my way by studying maps and training my sense of orientation, instead of calling the instant I´m lost: “Please tell me how I can find your street. I´m standing in front of a gas station ….”. Once upon a time, there was a world when somebody talking to himself on the street was considered a lunatic, when love affairs where private and when a man had to look his girlfriend into the eyes when he told her: “It is over. I´m leaving you”.

The mobile phone era in Germany started when reunification pushed the market. Phone lines in Eastern Germany were desolate. Therefore, in 1989, a mobile phone symbolized doing business in Eastern Germany. Though at this time, mobile phones where far from being mobile. The model offered by Deutsche Telekom looked like a bomb used a silent movie: a brick of metal with a receiver attached by a cord. It weighed 2 kilogramms and cost a fortune. Later, the “Knochen- the bones” came into use, a substantial piece of plastic with an antenna sticking out. By this time, the new device was called “Handy” in German. A marketing agency coined this word, but everybody thought it was the original English word.

Private use of mobile phones started in the early 90ies. I vividly remember the first private conversation on a mobile phone I listened to: a young man, still showing adolescent acne, enjoyed the admiration of his male and female pals for his brandnew mobile phone. When the mobile rang, he beamed with pride and pushed the receiver button. Suddenly, his expression changed. The sparkle in his eyes vanished, his shoulders slumped: “Ja, Mama, I´ll come home soon”.

For years after, to sit in the first class coach of trains turned out to be a valid method of research. Everything was talked about on the mobile phone, as if mobile phones built an invisible soundproof cubicle around the speaker. Be it mergers, acquisitions, or bankruptcy–a train ride provided first hand information.

Today, this golden era of investigative journalism has come to an end. Decline started with the Blackberry, when writing and checking E-mails became the favorite pasttime in business class. With the iPhone, even enjoying a DVD is a private pleasure again.

Luckily, the download list of applications compensates for this lack of public display. The ranking shows what people really care for.

The most popular business program for the iPhone is a manual on how to bind a tie. 

Men never change.

But this is another story.



Filed under Germany, World

2 responses to “Ode to the iPhone

  1. Hye

    Hi, it’s me. I admire technology too. My recent interests are touch phone(it includes iphone) and net book. Small but well-developed technology.^^
    Aren’t they beautiful?

  2. sroeber

    Yes, I love my iPhone, too, for a number of similar reasons. Most of all, though, I love the way it feels in my hand. It has the perfect weight, the perfect size, and the perfect haptics. However, following the press recently, it sounds as though Steve Jobs were soon to quit, because he’s reported to be quite ill. For the design community that will be a major loss for sure.

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