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The First Five Years of the iPhone Obsession

Taking stock of the iPhone’s impact on business and culture on the anniversary of its debut
IPhones sold: 217 million and counting
IPhones sold: 217 million and countingPhotograph by Caleb Charland for Bloomberg Businessweek

On June 29, 2007, the first iPhone went on sale. The Apple device benefited from breathless advance buzz but also had its skeptics: It cost $600 and had no physical keyboard, limited e-mail options, and no copy-and-paste. In hindsight, it was clearly dumb to bet against Steve Jobs & Co. Apple has since sold more than 217 million iPhones worldwide and sparked a commercial, cultural, and—most surprising—behavioral revolution. According to a study of medical workers at the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., 76 percent say they’ve experienced “phantom vibration,” that insistent buzz from an imagined text or phone call. Scientists speculate it’s the result of random nerves firing, biochemical noise that our brains easily tuned out until they were reconditioned by the iPhone.

“The iPhone has changed everything about how we relate to technology, for both good and bad,” says Larry Rosen, a psychologist, professor, and author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us. According to his research, nearly 30 percent of people born after 1980 feel anxious if they can’t check Facebook every few minutes. Others repeatedly pat their pockets to make sure their smartphone is still there. Indulging those tiny, persistent urges brings us only a brief respite. “The relief is not pleasurable,” says Rosen. “That’s the sign of an obsession.”