top of page

The cell phone is the digital Swiss army knife

I'm from a generation (a very "uncle-like" thing to say, right?) where one of childhood dreams was to own a Swiss army knife. Why? Because with it, you could do - almost - everything. If you were like MacGyver, you could disarm a bomb, build a building, and save a helpless lady all at once. In my case, it was more about tightening screws on my bicycle and being certain I'd survive in the jungle, even though the nearest forest was my grandmother's backyard lawn.

But it's a fact that the Swiss army knife had this aura of multi-functionality, of something that represented a world of possibilities all in one object. So, I started thinking that the cellphone is our 21st-century Swiss army knife. One object, a world of possibilities.

If the cellphone is indeed this - and you'll say, "Of course it is" - does this reflect how we see the cellphone as a multi-function content consumption platform? Because the digital world reaches us in various forms: the cellphone, the tablet, the laptop, smartwatches, specific-use devices (like e-readers, for example), but let's agree, it's on the cellphone that most of our digital consumption life happens today.

And mainly for two obvious but powerful reasons: accessibility and convenience. It's the device that's always in hand, always in the pocket, always nearby… even with that slightly dangerously exaggerated talk of "my cellphone is an extension of my body." But undoubtedly, the cellphone is the gateway to the digital world that's always in our hand… and I'll ask for permission not to discuss screen time here; everyone should seek a healthy relationship with it.

But bringing the cellphone into the realm of books, in a study published in December 2023 by the Brazilian Book Chamber and Nielsen BookData, the cellphone emerged as the preferred platform for readers, regardless of social class: 50% of digital books in Brazil are read on cellphones.

And the reason, in my opinion, is simple - those two words I mentioned earlier: accessibility and convenience. Could the cellphone be the device designed for the best possible book reading experience? Probably not, and certainly, it wasn't created specifically for that. But it's the device that's in (almost) everyone's hands. Today, in the digital environment, there's no more democratic reading support than the cellphone, period.

You might prefer a laptop because of its giant screen, a tablet because you also use it for watching movies on airplanes, an e-reader because e-ink technology emits light from outside to inside, thus not causing eye fatigue during long reads and providing the same sensation as reading a paper page… but when you're anywhere during the day, any place, the likelihood of having your cellphone in hand to read another chapter of your current book is infinitely higher than having any of these other devices.

The cellphone should be our great ally in spreading reading. It's the one that reaches anywhere, all the time, more than any other support, whether you like it or not.

It's not about ignoring other devices or formats; it's about using a powerful ally that's already in most people's hands to place a book there and use the ultimate cliché of any digital reading platform, "anytime, anywhere"... and I'm here to say that the cliché isn't bad; precisely because it's a cliché, there's a huge - and in this case, absolutely true - chance that it really is like that!

All this to say that the cellphone often isn't considered as a potential instrument for access, distribution, and consumption of books in reading, because over the last decade, there's been a lot of talk about tablets at times (and their flash-in-the-pan popularity), e-readers (since they were specifically created for this purpose), and computers (as the older sibling who arrived first and dominated our imagination for many years). But there's been little specific discussion about the cellphone potentially being the most important and largest instrument for accessing reading in current times.

And I'm talking about reading here, because everything related to listening to a story or watching another one is already part of everyday life for everyone who owns a cellphone.

Because you might go out with a utility belt with all your devices hanging from it, but you'll never forget your Swiss army knife; your cellphone will always be with you.

Let's take advantage of this unparalleled technological opportunity to bring more books and content to even more people, always with the clichéd mantra of "anytime, anywhere."


bottom of page