UX: Jan Chipchase TED Talk “The Anthropology of Phones” Response

Even though Jan Chipchase’s TED Talk on “The anthropology of mobile phones” was given ten years ago, many of his points are still relevant today with slight adaptations. Today more than ever people keep their phones close to their person more than any other item. As I walk out my door, I catch myself double checking that I have my wallet in my purse or backpack and tapping my pockets for my phone. The phone is the most valuable possession of people as it is a global communication device, virtual wallet, infinite source of information, immediate source of social media and much more. Chichase’s point on the three items people always carry is still true today and proves the importance of communication, shelter and security in our daily lives.

However, these safety and psychological needs that are fulfilled through carrying our mobile phone make me question whether it is the phone that is really needed or just any sort of object that could fulfill all those needs at once. Of course, this item must be digital and have varied capabilities or infinite capabilities in terms of information sourcing. Laptops provide all the same features a phone might but the phone is more convenient for daily use and on-the-go lives. Watches are another item that have begun to provide these same capabilities that our phones might provide while functioning as an object we might already have on us instead of an object we must keep in our pocket or purse. Still, the cell phone is currently the better tool with its size, screen, and worldwide use. Though as more products are designed to be “smart”, it begs the question whether the phone really is the most convenient tool for providing humans the ability to communicate and a sense of safety and security all the time. The phone is always evolving as seen in the slightly dated examples Chipchase brings up such as 2007 Uganda Sente, but if we stick to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the learnings from these examples are still applicable. Ten years from now, we shall see what new technological developments have or have not superseded the cell phone as peoples’ most valuable possession.