Smartphones have changed the meanings of free time, keeping in touch and staying in the know. But they've done much more than just help us go about our business – they've also changed how we think and behave as a species.
We don't just live within our local bubbles
Smartphones keep us in constant contact with the world at large, not just the social groups directly around us. FaceTime calls with your aunt in Australia, Facebook posts from school friends who moved away, and viral videos of challenges for humanity to face together – the whole world is in the palm of our hands.
Because of these global connections, it's easier to embrace diversity and understand what's going on beyond our own back garden. Plus, we have more people to turn to for emotional support because it's easier to find people we relate to. There's no need to be alone.
Although some people think communicating with the world online comes at the cost of relationships in person, research suggests the opposite. People who use smartphones for social media and long-distance messaging usually have more close friends than those who don't.
It's easier for us to make informed choices
With the internet in our pockets around the clock, we can instantly get information on anything we need. There's no need to rely on assumption, so the decisions we make for ourselves and our planet can be more responsible and less risky.
However, being properly informed is a choice individuals have to make for themselves. Throughout history it's been easy to just believe what you read and, with the prevalence of fakes news and alternative facts, that's still the case. The difference now is that the truth is available if you put a little effort into finding it. The potential to truly understand what goes into your food, your politics and your own identity is only a Google search away.
Our creative potential has been unlocked
With cameras, blogs and endless apps at the touch of a button, anyone can be a creator without spending hundreds on professional equipment. You can capture everyday moments and add a snazzy Instagram filter, write witty thoughts in 140 characters, or live-stream a video while performing in your bedroom.
Even people who aren't directly creating art or literature are more creative in the way they express themselves. Can't find the words to say how you feel? Send a GIF or a meme. Want to cheer someone up or get them excited? Send a link to a song with personal significance. The only limit is your imagination.
But are all the changes positive?
Not everyone agrees that we're changing for the better. Whereas we used to rely on social interaction and real world experiences to learn, we now consume information at an alarming rate. Some people believe this means we're never truly alone with our thoughts – contemplating, creating and engaging our brains – and instead just accept the facts we research.
Whether these people are right to be wary or not is impossible to say before the long-term effects reveal themselves. But for now, as long as we have happy, healthy relationships with our smartphones, they're a technological leap we can't do without. Our opportunities and worldviews are all the better for it.