Are Dogs Even Necessary In An iPhone World?

Does the iPhone hate dogs?

I know, that’s not a fair question. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the iPhone, if all smartphones, will fundamentally alter our relationship with our most trusted, faithful, ready-to-die-for-us-but-until-then-let’s-go-for-a-walk companions.

The arrival of the iPhone has, for better and for worse, diverted significant chunks of our attention away from both people and places. That much we know. But what about our dogs? Do we no longer require their fellowship? If not, what happens to them?

I do not know. The possibility of this scenario is without precedent. In such cases, I turn to fiction.

In the beloved film classic, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, all the dogs and cats are dead. Briefly, it’s because apes from the future come back to the present (1983) and, well, a disease subsequently wipes out all our little friends. Not a problem. Humans, being a resilient lot, decide apes will make effective pet replacements. They also quickly realize apes can do all sorts of things, more, even, than dogs and cats.

Smartphones are our apes is what I’m saying.

Let’s set aside for the moment how the apes launch a rebellion and wipe out most of humanity. For now, smartphones provide immediacy, interaction, diversion from our stresses. They tell us when to exercise, remind us if we are spending too much time at work, offer comfort when we are upset. They play music, show videos, hold our entire library, manage our schedule. They learn our habits, know our routines, and make us better than we are. 

So why even have a dog?

These are the primary reasons for having a dog:

  • Dogs alert us to dangers. They can even alert us to changes in our body.
  • Dogs remind us to go out for a walk. They help us lose weight and get fit.
  • Dogs are always there, always ready to interact with us at a moment’s notice.
  • With dogs, we feel more connected, happier.
  • If you have OCD, depression, or suffer from PTSD, dogs can help.
  • Is your child safe? A dog can warn you.
  • If you feel lonely, your beloved dog offers comfort.
  • Need someone to just listen, empathize? Dogs are especially good at this.

Thing is, smartphones already do all of these. Some they do even better than dogs. And should you need to track a loved one, if they have a smartphone that’s much better than if you have a dog.

Smartphones also cost a great deal less than pets.

My oldest dog just required surgery. This set me back $5,000. That alone pays for two shiny new iPhones, an Apple Watch and at least two years of cellular service.


It’s not the cost, however, that prompted my speculation on the necessity of dogs. It was a trip to the vet. The old dog was in his normal jovial mood when I drove him in for surgery, despite having to go without eating for more than 12 hours. But he quickly got scared, intuiting the clinical surroundings could only mean something was amiss. He kept nudging up against me, kept seeking reassurances. I happily obliged. Every time.

Until one time when I did not. I was busy tweeting some brilliant insight, as I do, when I suddenly realized he was trying especially hard to grab my attention. A scared dog will do that. I stuck my iPhone in my pocket and left it there for the remainder of the appointment.

It is extremely difficult to put away that beckoning screen. Not just for me but for hundreds of millions of others. This is fact and offered without judgment.

Where does this lead us? Again, I do not know. I do know that smartphones will alter us because they will alter our relationships, disrupt our time, rearrange our priorities, and deconstruct traditional links with our surroundings.

I wish I could say always for the better, but that would be a lie.

The old dog’s fine. In fact, the vet says he probably has four good years remaining. What our screens will do for us by then, I can only imagine. I do know they are replacing much more than just other gadgets.

Published by

Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about mobile devices, crowdsourced entertainment, and the integration of cars and computers. His work has been published with Macworld, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, ReadWrite and numerous others. Multiple columns have been cited as "must reads" by AllThingsD and Re/Code and he has been blacklisted by some of the top editors in the industry. Brian has been a guest on several radio programs and podcasts.

25 thoughts on “Are Dogs Even Necessary In An iPhone World?”

  1. Completely overlooks the stress, pressure, time compression, and grief caused by mobile devices for many people. This story is based on the premise that mobile tech offers a release – a salvation – that somehow can eliminate the need for traditional forms of stress relief. It’s just not so. My iPhone replacing the role my dog fills is not going to happen. In order for the narrative of this story to play out, it needs to pretend that mobile tech only enriches our lives, instead of recognizing its potential to enslave and oppress at the same time.

  2. 2020, the year of Lovables.

    Having sated our quest for information, social interactions and impulse purchases via pocketables, pampered our physical and psychological needs thanks to the insight gained via wearables, Ordinatrix, benevolent goddess of IT, can now sate our need to love and be loved, with a wide range of Objects of Affection, from the smallest iTamagotchi to the realistic ePuppy to the most unsettling VirtuaHunk and TechBroad 3.0.

    In the shadows, Skynet schemes to weaponize all that…

  3. “It is extremely difficult to put away that beckoning screen. Not just for me but for hundreds of millions of others. This is fact and offered without judgment.”

    It’s becoming a problem. Screens do not offer stress relief, they are an avenue of escape, the new TV I suppose. People don’t know how to simply be still anymore. Or maybe they never did and I’m just more aware of it because the screens are mobile now, that could be. I have a hard time understanding why people can’t put down their screens and unplug for chunks of time.

  4. I don’t get unwavering loyalty or unquestioning love from my iPhone (nor from my wife). But I do from my dog. Guess that’s the one I can’t give up.

      1. … but then again, there are the highly evolved notification systems (ears and tail)….
        …and don’t forget the wetware feedback – the licks!!!

  5. Brian, you did it again! Another fine and thought-provoking article. Thank you.
    I have decided to have at least one day a week when I don’t carry/use a phone or computer.
    My learned FOMO habits will get a much-needed kick in the arse – which is a good thing.
    I resigned from the chatterati years ago when I stopped using FaceBook – a great move btw.
    Well, people will complain about my maverick, contrarian social non-networking.
    But who cares? I would take such comments as praise.
    I’ve trialled this ‘apartness’ a few times and it is curiously liberating.

    So many other things to turn my attention to.
    Like my dear buddy, my dog Bailey.
    I mean, does your phone look you in the eyes and lick you?

  6. Louis CK answered it best re this addiction with gadgets, social media and the like. Its because it distracts us, it takes away the sadness and the loneliness and that feeling of being alone-when fully felt and internalized could make us cry, introspect, make us feel better and more appreciative of life. The truth is, with the advent of this technology we’re neither so happy, content or so sad. We’re just there in the ho-hum middle ground, waiting for the next big thing to jumpstart and amuse us from this monotony, trying to suppress the drudgery called routine.

    The term wired, and technologically savvy in all its intents and purposes is a euphemism of digital addiction- and you Brian, sorry to candidly tell so- clearly manifests this type of malady.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *