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How will you use your new superpower?

Your landline telephone. Your fax machine. Your dictation machine. Calculator. Watch. Timer. Notebook. Filing cabinet. Calendar. Music player. Camera. Photo album. Map. Alarm clock. Key. Newspaper. Scanner. Camera. Library. Dictionary. Encyclopedia. Translator. Weather forecaster. Wallet. Flashlight.

In 2010, I wrote here that the future of your business would be in the palm of your hand. At that time the cellphone was mutating into the smartphone, connecting itself to cloud computing, and becoming more and more affordable even as it became more and more sophisticated.

I warned then: “If you run a shop, the time is coming when customers will simply wave their phones at special terminals to pay their bill. If you are a bank, people coming to your branches is going to become a fond memory. If you make maps, there will be no point putting them in print. If you run a TV company, you need to be on your customer’s mobiles before someone else is…If photography is your business, worry hard about the fact that the ordinary person will soon have a high-resolution camera on his phone and will store all his photos online rather then print them.”

Ten years on, there can be little doubt that the smartphone was THE most disruptive device of the decade, probably of all time. It has blown away hundreds of product lines, and the first paragraph above details some of the separate devices you used to own in order to do things that are now done just from one.

In 2015 I made some more “predictions” about the smartphone that were merely statements of the obvious. “Banks, TV companies, newspapers, utility providers, retailers, healthcare providers: you ain’t seen nothing yet, particularly in Africa. The real upheavals are yet to come. In 2020, if I’m still writing this column, and wherever you are and on whatever thing you’re reading it, let’s discuss the issue again.”

So let’s do that. I’m still writing here, but I bet most of you are not reading this on a printed page. I bet a good chunk of your banking, shopping, paying and viewing is not about going somewhere to do something; it’s just happening on your smartphone. And that will only accelerate.

The smartphone didn’t just replace, it also created. Here’s another list:

Your taxi service. Accommodation service. Medical advisor. Shopping mall. Cinema. Personal tutor. Insurer. Travel guide. Payments facilitator. Entertainment console. And let’s not forget: your social life.

All those feature multi-billion-dollar fresh products and companies that all appeared conveniently in the palm of your hand in the past decade. And there’s a lot more to come.

Those who centred their businesses on the smartphone thrived and enjoyed explosive growth. Those who didn’t get it, well…they’re still deflating, increasingly rapidly.

Of course, sales have peaked. Nearly half the world’s people now have a smartphone in their hands; nearly two-thirds have mobile devices. The year-on-year innovation has cooled, and so have units sold. But the fact remains: most people who want a smartphone have one now. That means that in most people’s hands there is something with the power of supercomputers of eras past; with cameras better than pros used to have; and always connected to a live worldwide trove of information, knowledge and opinions.

So what do you do with YOUR superpowered device?

Do you use it to ply your trade even better, access knowledge that was once hidden away, make your daily work more productive, connect with the world’s thinkers and sages? Because there is so much good that could come from that device in your hand.

Or do you use it to stupefy yourself? Have you become a zombie who can’t look away from the endless stream of dimwit videos and vituperative hashtags and endlessly banal opinions? Is your smartphone your portable truth device, or a chain that keeps you tethered to fake vitriol, and manipulated by sinister puppeteers? There is also a very dark side to this remarkable connectivity. We are all prone to mindless distraction, but how much?

It’s a personal call.

We have in our hands the most phenomenal device in human history. Never before have we been able to do so much just sitting in our homes in our pyjamas. Never before have been able to learn so much for so little. Never before have we been able track things, record things, know things so simply and cheaply.

And never before have we been so distracted by nonsense, so fixated on noise instead of signal, so willing to surrender all semblance of privacy, so detached from nature.

How will YOU use this superpower in the decade ahead?

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Picture credit: Sunny Bindra