We’re Still Calling Them Phones

Rotary iPhone


A generation from now our descendants will be remarking on the curious etymology of the word ‘phone’. As a smart phone user, I can attest that the ‘phone’ part of my device maybe one of its more trivial features. In a sense, it’s a shame because the word ‘phone’ comes with a lot of baggage. The ‘long distance’ ‘text messages’ and ‘call display’ that we pay extra for are really just silly fabrications at this point. Even the notion of phone numbers is woefully anachronistic in a world of ubiquitous social media. Why are we using silly strings of digits when we can use meaningful identifiers like people’s names to find one another. I created the above image to capture this dissonance as it seems the word ‘phone’ will forever be the name for our personal, portable, connected, general purpose computing device and sensor array.


Making of Rotary iPhone

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5 years, 334 days ago   2 Comments


  1. Bi-Ying Miao says:

    sweet render dude!

  2. sdenheyer says:

    “Phone number” and “person” map exactly onto “IP address” and “website” – the only difference is computer networking was designed specifically to make IP addresses and DNS resolution opaque to users (until you have to configure a network interface). An arbitrary number is the most parsimonious way to distinguish one thing from another on a network, so I don’t think it’s going away any time soon – it’ll just be driven down the layers of abstraction until it’s beneath our notice. (An aside – the TV show “The Good Wife” did an episode on bitcoin, in which an IP address was mentioned – in the 127.x.x.x loopback block. It occurred to me this was the same as the “555” phone numbers given in TV & movies).

    On etymology, the 17th century use of the word “computer” was “person who does calculations.” With super-generalized, agent-y software like Siri on the ascent, I wonder if this isn’t going to come full circle – we’re going to think of our devices as kind of a special class of person – “majordomo” or “butler”…

    I can’t really say why we aren’t carrying PDA’s that also make phone calls, instead of the other way around. I suspect it’s because cell-phones had huge market penetration, whereas PDAs really failed to take off in a big way. And then, iphones.