Your Smartphone: The Most Functional Multi-Tool on the Market.

It is a common conversation piece how the cell phone has taken up a place of prominence in most of our lives. Ever the mobile communication center, we call, text, Facebook, instant message, tweet, email and use it to connect with others through a seemingly endless number of channels.

In addition to this, we also know we put our smartphones to work as televisions, radios, music players, flashlights, and dozens of other functions. So many functions, in fact, that it’s easy to lose perspective. So even with that knowledge, a bit of comparison can be shocking.

Last year, a writer from Buffalo had a story on the Huffington Post, showing a Radio Shack advertisement from 1991, and highlighting how almost every item in the sale flyer had been replaced in modern life by one – the smartphone. Some are obvious like the cellular phone, the camera and the camcorder. Others, like the portable personal stereo, calculator, clock radio and headphones, are replaced by apps. And the fact that a computer costing $1,599 in 1991 ($2,744 adjusted for inflation) would be entirely replaceable by a phone today is even more arresting.

Image from Huffington Post’s Everything from this 1991 Radio Shack Ad you can now do with your phone. January 16, 2014

It’s a fun exercise, but one that can be taken a step further. 1991 was at the cusp of the revolutions set off by both the internet and ever-shrinking processor size. To really grasp the reach of the smartphone, Google an image of a Radio Shack, Circuit City or Best Buy ad from 2005. Just ten years ago, the ads are filled with products that are, while not wholly obsolete, often replaced by smartphones and apps today.

GPS units were hot –and pricey. All three highlight radar detectors, digital cameras and tape based (non HD) video cameras. All of these items are still relevant, but also replaceable. GPS units are increasingly replaced by an Apple or Google Maps app, both of which give you step by step directions with voice commands. A modern iPhone or Android offers resolution that cameras of 10 years ago couldn’t touch. And apps like Waze lessen the relevance of radar or laser detectors by giving real time information on traffic conditions and speeding traps.

To reminisce, take a scroll through your apps, and think about the products each one has served to eliminate from your life. The phone book that no longer sits in your kitchen, to the flashlight that is no longer by the basement steps, to the five cameras gathering dust in your junk drawer. And let your toaster know it’s safe. For now…