Smartphone Cameras are Changing the Course of History

In my column for Forbes last week, I wrote about how smartphones with cameras have been impacting world history since Apple’s iPhone burst onto the market in 2007.

In the article, I wrote about the integration of a camera and a cell phone and how its history could be traced back to Philippe Kahn, who at the time was CEO of Borland. He jerry-rigged a small camera to his cell phone so that he could send pictures to friends and family of his daughter Sophie, who was born in 1997, from the hospital.

Philippe came to my office and showed me his camera phone idea before he went public with it. He asked my opinion on who he should talk to about his new invention. In a note from Philippe to me last week, he reminded me that he asked my thoughts about going to Kodak, and I told him that they were going through a major repositioning at the time and was trying to prop up their legacy photo business, I told him Kodak would not be a good partner for this in 1997. Instead, I steered him towards some Japanese companies and that is who he eventually partnered with for the first version of a camera phone that came out in 2000 by Sharp. Apple took this idea to the next level with the iPhone intro in 1997 and as they say, the rest is history.

Smartphones with cameras are recording history as it happens. Its impact on catching things like the police killing of George Floyd and, more recently the police shooting of Rayshard Brooks over the weekend in Atlanta, is a powerful example of how smartphones with cameras can hold people, authorities, and governments, responsible for their actions.

Modern historians are actively working within this technological shift. Once having to rely on archives of documents, images, and more from libraries or institutions, they now have images posted all over social media from the vantage points of diverse human beings. Modern history can now be preserved from every angle with rich media thanks to smartphones and their image capture capabilities.

Smartphones with the camera have to be considered one of the most important technological inventions of our current time, and most certainly one of the most important of our last decade.

Besides its use in capturing family pictures and allowing us to post images and videos on sites like Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and many other social media platforms, it has become a vehicle for change.

We got our first glimpse of this with the Arab Spring uprising in 2009 and have seen the rise of what has often been called “citizen Journalism” where cameraphones combined with social media, record the good and evil of our day as it happens.

And the last two weeks this has been amplified by the social injustices we are seeing right before our eyes with the brutal killings the aforementioned black men. While the battle for social injustice and human rights as been ongoing for decades, perhaps this time, and perhaps in part to smartphone cameras, we will see a different outcome and be moved to a better place.

We are still early in this century and I am sure we will have other technologies that will be invented in the future that may have a similar impact on our lives and history. We can hope technology can continue to empower the voices who historically had no voice or no medium to be heard universally. Between social media and smartphones/smartphone cameras, that is becoming a reality.

As I have been reflecting on what has happened in the last few weeks and how the powerful camera in everyone’s pockets has played an important role in recording history and showing it as it happens via social media, I have come to appreciate how this invention is changing the world in real-time and will continue to for years to come.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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