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The perpetual opportunism of the smartphone

The smartphone helps us experience perpetual opportunism: it is now possible to be in contact, take a picture or buy something whenever you want.
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Photography is a great example of perpetual opportunism. The Instagram world where you caught the exact moment when the butterfly spreads its wings or your toddler looks especially cute. There is also a new genre we can call functional photography– taking photos of event flyers on notice boards or bus timetables– functions purely as a record of information. When the senior community in [INAUDIBLE] went on a trip, not everyone could make it so photos are used to help those left behind feel part of the experience. In Sao Paulo perpetual opportunism means you can be busy and feel productive even when you are answering emails and learning a language or playing brain training game.
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On holiday you never know when you might need to Google Translate or a map app because you are lost. You need this to always be there. In Japan, the government take advantage of perpetual opportunism by sending emergency mobile notifications of imminent natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. But people tend to pay little attention to these because they are so frequent and often are sent just as the event is taking place, so they don’t actually give much advance warning. For young people in many regions, it’s all about boredom. With smartphones any second of downtime can be filled by scrolling through news, social media, or shopping platforms.
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These consequences of perpetual opportunism show that the smartphone enables us to be more spontaneous, to fill free time as it arises, and to blur the boundaries between activities which before might have been very separate.

An influential book about the mobile phone was called Perpetual Contact (edited by Katz and Aakhus, you can see Step 1.7 of this course for more details) because the advent of the mobile phone was the first time people could be constantly in touch. But as the short film above shows, ‘perpetual opportunism’ in relation to the smartphone means so much more. It is now possible to be in contact, take a picture or buy something whenever you want and from wherever you are.

After having watched the video, consider this concept in terms of your own experience and the way smartphones are used by people around you. Does this give you further insights into the use and consequences of smartphones? What would you add to this film?

As academics, we have further questions to ask:

What would be the wider consequences of ‘perpetual opportunism’? Does it change our perception of the world?

Perhaps it creates a more short-term outlook that is only concerned with the present moment, or conversely, it means we can spend more time planning?

Perhaps it makes our view of the world more superficial, or perhaps it alerts us to the world in a way comparable to mindfulness?

Or perhaps it makes no difference to our wider experience of the world around us, and we should just consider this in terms of the way we exploit the potential of this new device?

A longer discussion of this topic can be found in chapter 5 of The Global Smartphone, which is linked below.

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An Anthropology of Smartphones: Communication, Ageing and Health

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