Can you recall why we still say “dial” a phone number? If you can, then you’re probably a member of the analog generation, those who grew up with rotary dial phones and roll-down car windows. If you don’t know where “dial” comes from, then you’re a member of the digital generation, accustomed to tapping numbers on a smartphone.
I’m a member of the analog generation, but I happily use all the new digital technologies. My smartphone is a constant companion, though sometimes I leave it home just to relive the freedom of my analog youth. Just how prevalent are smartphones? And, are they good or bad for democracy?
A majority of Americans (56%) now own smartphones, according to the Pew Research Center’s compilation of historic milestones. Another 35% own cell phones that aren’t smartphones. Only 9% don’t have cell phones or smartphones. Pew notes that the increase in smartphone ownership cuts across the economic spectrum, though there are still demographic differences.
The widespread adoption of smartphones should be good for democracy. Political scientists argue that the spread of information supports democracy, and smartphones play a key part in that process. Pew also finds that a majority of Americans use the Internet to get their news. But we also know that some people seek sources of information that only reinforce their points of view.
With the official launch of my new book United America on January 27, we used this week to explore several historic milestones in America’s emerging common ground: majorities of Americans now favor legalizing same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana, a majority say that MYOB—Mind Your Own Business—should be America’s foreign policy, and a demographic milestone—that the immigrant population has reached a record number.
What does all of this mean? This is a portrait of Americans wanting to flex their own freedoms, and let others flex their freedoms, with limited government interference. It’s also a time when the nation is increasingly diverse, so that eventually no one will command a decisive majority. So, it’s a crucial time to discover what Core Values Americans share and how we can still hold together as a nation.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the effects of these trends?
Do you see new common ground?
Or, new sources of division and discord?