In 2009, roughly 5 percent of the global population owned a smartphone. Before 2015 is out, that number is expected to hit 35 percent, or 2.5 billion people—approximately the populations of China and India combined. Considering the ever-quickening pace of technological innovation and the shrinking cost of processors and chipsets, it does not take a particularly fertile imagination to picture the day when, perhaps as soon as 2017, half the world will be hooked up to the small screen of a smartphone. ... street theft of mobile devices—or “Apple picking,” as it’s known—has been such a widespread crime in recent years. According to Consumer Reports, 3.1 million Americans were the victims of smartphone theft in 2013, up from 1.6 million in 2012. The mobile security firm Lookout believes that one in 10 smartphone users in the US have had their phones stolen; 68 percent of those victims never saw their device again. Nationally, about one-third of robberies now involve a smartphone. ... estimated Americans spend $4.8 billion annually on premium phone insurance and $580 million a year on replacement devices.
Until recently the military junta had imposed artificial caps on access to smartphones and SIM cards. Many of the farmers we spoke with had never owned a smartphone before. The villages were often without running water or electricity, but they buzzed with newly minted cell towers and strong 3G signals. For them, everything networked was new. ... Almost all of the farmers we spoke with were Facebook users. None had heard of Twitter. How they used Facebook was not dissimilar to how many of us in the West see and think of Twitter: as a source of news, a place where you can follow your interests. The majority, however, didn’t see the social platform as a place to be particularly social or to connect with and stay up to date on comings and goings within their villages. ... What follows are a series of diary entries and notes culled from our interviews. The interview teams were composed of three or four people: a translator, a photographer, a notetaker, and sometimes a facilitator. ... Everyone is data sensitive he says and reiterates: Facebook. Nobody needs a special app for their interests. Just search for your interest on Facebook. Facebook is the Internet. ... Everyone installs apps using Zapya, an app-sharing app. Makes a local network. Everyone nearby connects to it. Allows groups to send data—apps, videos, music—back and forth without using bandwidth. ... there is no incumbent electric giant monopolizing rural areas to fight against solar, there is no incumbent bank which will lobby against bitcoin, there are no expectations about how a computer should work, how a digital book should feel. There is only hunger and curiosity. ... They don’t have email addresses and so often don’t know their logins. If they get logged out they have someone—often the village Facebook guru—make them a new account. “Friends” on Facebook are friends only because the application calls them friends in the interface.
When he’s gone, the news will shock them all, from the FBI to his family to the daughters of Roman Totenberg, who stand to inherit the instrument. They will ask how this once-promising, later penniless eccentric stole an 18th-century violin worth millions — and got away with it. After all, he was the only suspect when it was taken in 1980. As death approaches, Johnson, usually the loudest voice in the room, keeps his mouth shut. It is the fall of 2011. This has been his secret for 31 years. ... Johnson, who was never able to hold a job, a mortgage or a relationship, somehow accomplished something most everyone thought impossible: He played Totenberg’s Stradivarius in plain view until the end. ... He did this through chaos and control, by building an impenetrable wall between his past and present. Those who suspected Johnson of the crime lost track of him. Those who knew him during the last two decades of his life had never heard of the Totenberg theft. They just thought Johnson had an old violin. ... Experts estimate that of the 1,000 or so violins crafted before Stradivari’s death in 1737, about 500 survive today. ... Johnson was never meant to be a journeyman. At one time, he was thought by many, including his college teacher Joseph Silverstein — one of the great orchestral violinists of the 20th century — to be a dynamic player with considerable promise.
Xiaomi’s tale may sound like merely another iteration of that now familiar headline, tech unicorn gallops into wall. But Xiaomi (pronounced “SHAO-me,” with the first syllable sounding like the “show” in “shower”) isn’t just any privately held, multibillion-dollar startup. It’s a rising power in a nation eager to prove that its consumer-oriented companies can compete globally. ... The company didn’t attain that valuation on the strength of its phones, though those get raves in the tech press (and have even made Xiaomi modestly profitable) while selling for half the price of an iPhone. No, private investors judged Xiaomi to be more valuable than FedEx or Caterpillar or Delta Air Lines because of the promise that it could build a network of products, services, and recurring revenues—an ecosystem like Apple’s—not just in China but around the world. ... If anything, Xiaomi’s idea of an ecosystem is more ambitious than Apple’s. Apple focuses on services like iTunes and a tightly focused suite of tablets, computers, and smartphones. Xiaomi envisions a sprawling Internet of things. The company hopes you will someday control your Xiaomi water purifier, Xiaomi air filter, and Xiaomi mood lighting—an entire Xiaomi smart home, essentially—with a few taps on your phone. ... as Xiaomi’s progress slows, there’s growing skepticism that a startup without innovative technology of its own or much success outside of smartphone sales can produce an ecosystem anywhere nearly as big or “sticky” as Apple’s and Google’s. ... Xiaomi’s team works primarily with outside companies. The company partners with hardware startups (and often creates new ones), providing seed money for ecosystem products. Xiaomi avoids taking full control, encouraging the founders to act like risk-taking entrepreneurs. The company gets an exclusive deal to sell most of the startups’ products, and in turn the startups, now numbering 55, get access to Xiaomi’s supply chain, marketing, and even its industrial engineers.
Harris is the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience. As the co‑founder of Time Well Spent, an advocacy group, he is trying to bring moral integrity to software design: essentially, to persuade the tech world to help us disengage more easily from its devices. ... While some blame our collective tech addiction on personal failings, like weak willpower, Harris points a finger at the software itself. That itch to glance at our phone is a natural reaction to apps and websites engineered to get us scrolling as frequently as possible. The attention economy, which showers profits on companies that seize our focus, has kicked off what Harris calls a “race to the bottom of the brain stem.” ... we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us. ... He studied computer science at Stanford while interning at Apple, then embarked on a master’s degree at Stanford, where he joined the Persuasive Technology Lab. Run by the experimental psychologist B. J. Fogg, the lab has earned a cultlike following among entrepreneurs hoping to master Fogg’s principles of “behavior design”—a euphemism for what sometimes amounts to building software that nudges us toward the habits a company seeks to instill. ... Sites foster a sort of distracted lingering partly by lumping multiple services together.
In the first quarter of 2016, Huawei sold 10 times as many phones as Apple in Finland, according to research firm IDC. And in October it soared ahead of Samsung for the market-share lead. ... Today you can’t stride through Helsinki without encountering a Huawei billboard. You can’t watch Jokerit, one of the country’s top hockey teams, without seeing Huawei’s flower-in-bloom logo. And you can’t find an electronics store where Huawei’s phones don’t outnumber Samsung’s and Apple’s. ... Enter Huawei—probably the most viable contender yet to loosen the giants’ grip. It’s a 170,000-employee company with $61 billion in sales, selling telecom equipment in 170 countries. Since 2014 it has been No. 1 globally in sales of the networking equipment that underpins telecommunication systems, taking the crown from Sweden’s Ericsson. And now its goal is to dominate the market for the phones themselves. It has taken big strides toward doing just that in China and in growing swaths of Europe—helped in those Western countries by side deals with wireless carriers that have not previously been reported.
Consider the number of networked cameras that capture data about you as you go about your day. Surveillance cameras are mounted in offices, stores, public transportation; on city streets, ATM machines, and car dashboards. You or your neighbors may have installed cameras to watch over your front door; you may have a webcam watching over your valuables—perhaps even your children. Security cameras are virtually everywhere, installed both to provide a record if a crime is committed and to deter people from committing a crime in the first place. Based on an exhaustive survey of the number of such cameras in one English county in 2011, it was estimated there were 2 million surveillance cameras in the United Kingdom alone—about one camera for every thirty people. ... Generalizing this to the rest of the world, there are about 100 million cameras watching public spaces, all day and all night. Yet, this is only one-tenth of the 1 billion cameras on smartphones. Within the next few years, there will be one networked camera for every single person on the planet. ... If technology continues to follow Moore’s Law, doubling the computing power available at the same price every 18 months, we will very likely be sharing the world with roughly 1 trillion sensors by 2020, in line with projections from Bosch, HP, IBM, and others. ... If everything is recorded, will it encourage "better" behavior? And how will the lack of any recording be interpreted?
Everyone knows that modern computers are better than old ones. But it is hard to convey just how much better, for no other consumer technology has improved at anything approaching a similar pace. The standard analogy is with cars: if the car from 1971 had improved at the same rate as computer chips, then by 2015 new models would have had top speeds of about 420 million miles per hour. ... There have been roughly 22 ticks of Moore’s law since the launch of the 4004 in 1971 through to mid-2016. For the law to hold until 2050 means there will have to be 17 more, in which case those engineers would have to figure out how to build computers from components smaller than an atom of hydrogen, the smallest element there is. ... a consensus among Silicon Valley’s experts that Moore’s law is near its end.
Already, the four companies that in 2015 provided 88 percent of the world’s lithium can’t keep up: Lithium contract prices have increased from $4,000 per metric ton in 2014 to as high as $20,000 today. ... That’s why a host of junior entrants are scrambling to get into the game. Whoever can figure out the extraction and chemistry required to get lithium out of the ground and into batteries stands to capture a significant share of the market. But as with any commodity, it’s a precarious business. ... Lithium can be mined from rocks, as in Australia and China, but in Clayton Valley and the lithium triangle it’s extracted from briny aquifers. ... The best hope new entrants have of catching Albemarle lies in a process being developed by Tenova SpA, an Italian engineering company. This method, which strips the lithium using an ion-exchange system and returns the water to the ground, would allow companies to skip evaporation ponds, slashing production time from months to hours while yielding a higher concentration of lithium.
I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation. ... Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it. ... I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. ... the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy. ... There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.