I've read the articles on why we should leave our phones in another room when we go to bed at night. (Hell, I've written an article, or three, on the topic myself.) And even though I get it — the blue light emitted from my phone doesn't exactly soothe my tired-but-wired brain to sleep — I still keep my phone within arm's reach when I sleep. Why? Because, as with the majority of smartphone users, my phone is my alarm clock. At least, that's my excuse.
Initially, I started using my phone alarm because of convenience. But, waking up to my phone (rather than, say, the human partner lying next to me) transformed my morning routine: I reach for my phone to silence the alarm and, hey look at this, I'm reading the news and checking the weather.
Here's my question: When did this modern-day madness start? When did the majority of people trash their clunky, but perfectly useful radio alarm clocks and replace them with smartphones?
To find the answer, we may need to look back to the first smartphone: Simon. Designed by IBM and made available for purchase in 1994, Simon looked like Zach Morris' famously enormous cell phone — minus the super-cool six inch antenna. Among other features, Simon had a touchscreen, email and fax capability (emphasis on capability, not speed or ease), a calculator and an alarm clock.
IBM only sold 50,000 Simons, mainly because the phone cost between $900 to $1,100 (which in 1994 could have bought you a decent used car), and other, far cheaper phones were starting to hit the market. Even IBM fell out of love with Simon and, soon after it launched, moved on to other things, like downsizing PCs from "monstruous" to merely "large." Yet, despite the fact that Simon had limited appeal, a short battery life and no flip-phone feature (coveted, in the '90s), the world's first smartphone left behind a legacy: It introduced the idea that our phones belong at our bedsides, perhaps paving the way for how we sleep and wake today.
Needless to say, I never saw a Simon in real life; In 1994, I was a bookish eight-year-old kid living in middle-class Iowa. My first cell phone was a Nokia 3310, which was several years old by the time my parents handed it down to me in 2005. But despite its alarm clock feature, I only used it to call my two or three friends and play "Snake."
I caught up with the times in 2012, when I bought a smartphone and ditched my alarm clock for the one built into my phone. Most people, polls have shown, have done the same thing. But, alarm clocks haven't entirely disappeared. As Motherboard reported in 2015, both nostalgia and growing awareness of the health impact of nighttime phone use have helped the bedside devices stick around. Today, I could buy an alarm clock that, for instance, wakes me up with a slow, sunrise-mimicking glow. Then again, I probably won't. I mean, how else could I possibly know if it's raining outside?