Welcome to an alternate world where the smartphone was invented in the 1960s. Where millions of people were able to tune into the first-person live stream of the moon landing, Woodstock was just a giant opportunity for narcissistic selfies, Andy Warhol was the world’s first Instagram celebrity, and the counter-culture movement grew exponentially through social media.
How would smartphones in the 1960s have changed the course of history? And if the smartphone had had been invented so much earlier, what would it look like by now? And why would the first generation to grow old with smartphones be so different from ours?
A lot of our most significant historical shifts and events were affected by the technologies that were available to us at that time. With that in mind, we thought it’d be interesting to see how our world would change if we dropped smartphones into the iconic decade that was the 1960s.
Oh, and just for argument’s sake, we’re talking about smartphones as we know them today, complete with internet access, social media, mobile apps, cameras, livestreaming, and all. And let’s not get bogged down with the technical details.
When we talk about the 1960s, it’s hard not to mention the Vietnam War, since the conflict and its opposition pretty well defined the decade. Vietnam was known as the first “television war” because of the significant role televised news reports played in turning public opinion against the war.
But even with all the images and videos coming back to the USA, it still took years for the real horrors of the war to be exposed. Journalists were pressured to get quick shots of the latest firefights by riding helicopters in and out of the battlefield the same day.
Then the footage was shipped back to the editors, and packaged up before it was shown on American television sets.
If smartphones had been around at the time, reporters would have been able to immediately broadcast their images and videos directly from the war zone.
This would have allowed them to stay on the battlefield longer, capture more comprehensive stories, and keep the world up-to-date faster. There would also have been a tremendous opportunity for the citizens of Vietnam to share their accounts of the events.
Not only would smartphones have caused a faster shift in public opinion, they would also have allowed for better-organized protests back at home. Instead of organizing through word-of-mouth or flyers, protestors could’ve spread the word through giant online communities, resulting in a wider reach and quicker mobilization.
And speaking of giant communities, imagine the excitement that would have built up online in the lead-up to one of the biggest events of the decade: Woodstock. Woodstock ’69 has built up a legacy over the ages of being the ideal music festival, three days of peace, love, and good times; but in reality, it was a lot more complicated than that.
The organizers weren’t ready for so many people; they ran out of food, didn’t have enough toilets, trash piled up everywhere, and some concertgoers even died. If every one of the million attendees had a smartphone with them, there could’ve been endless online posts complaining about these conditions. The festival might have gotten a bad reputation quickly.
Some of the musical acts might have gotten wind of the whole situation and decided not to show up at all. Instead of becoming one of the defining moments of a generation, it could’ve just been remembered as an epic failure.
Okay, so we’ve looked at how smartphones in the 1960s could have changed our past, so now let’s look at how they could’ve changed our present. If the smartphone had been invented back in the ’60s, it would have had so much more time to evolve by now!
The chances are that smartphone technology would be far more advanced than anything we have in our pockets today.
Experts say that the next forms of smartphone technology will focus on the non-physical side of things.
We’re talking phones that are viewed through high-tech contact lenses, controlled by voice-command, charged through a wireless system similar to wi-fi, and powered by artificial intelligence. They would break down the barriers between our physical and digital lives, making our whole world one big augmented reality.
The smartphone itself would be superior to what it is today, but what about the people operating the smartphones?
If the smartphone had been around since the 1960s, we’d be looking at an entire generation of senior citizens who had never known a world without it.
We already know what effects smartphones are having on users into their twenties: less social interaction, shorter attention spans, higher rates of depression, and slower rates of maturation. But what will it be like for generations who have grown old with smartphones?
Subscribe to What-If on YouTube or follow the show on Facebook Watch.
- “United States news media and the Vietnam War”. 2019. en.wikipedia.org. Accessed October 26 2019.
- “Have Smartphones Destroyed A Generation?”. Twenge, Jean. 2017. The Atlantic. Accessed October 26 2019.
- “What Happens When Millennials Grow Up?”. Hannah Ewens, 2016. Vice. Accessed October 26 2019.
- “Becoming an adult: Why more adolescents now say ‘Don’t rush me’’”. Hanes, Stephanie. 2019. The Christian Science Monitor. Accessed October 26 2019.
- “Smartphones as we know them will be dead in five years”. Arjun Kharpal, 2017. CNBC. Accessed October 26 2019.
- “Future Phones: What do you think phones will look like in 2050?”. JONATHAN STRICKLAND Howstuffworks. Accessed October 26 2019.
- “Council Post: The Future Of Smartphones”. Hatem Zeine, 2019. forbes.com. Accessed October 26 2019.
- “Limits to innovation – how far can smartphone design evolve?”. McFerran, Damien. 2018. Techradar. Accessed October 26 2019.
- “Take A Bad Trip To The Dark Side Of Woodstock 69 – Page 7 Of 14 – Destination Tips”. Simon, Peter. 2014. Destination Tips. Accessed October 26 2019.
- “Social Media Is Television In The 1960’S – The Social Robot”. 2015. The Social Robot. Accessed October 26 2019.