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Mobile Is the New Cigarette

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h1 Maybe I'm not as comfortable being powerless as you are.

Don Draper

Last week, the NY Times wondered whether tablet devices were on the verge of making PCs obsolete. It’s obvious that PCs can still do plenty of things that tablets and phones can’t, but it’s not an idle question. In 2011, Apple sold more iOS devices than all the Mac computers they've sold since 1984. We saw a remarkable lift in the percentage of SAY’s traffic from mobile browsers this past holiday period as wrapping paper fell off of iPads, iPhones, Kindle Fires, Nooks, and all the Android and Windows Mobile devices. (When in the last 50 years has Christmas day meant that you have to rethink the nature of ad inventory?) If you’re reading this in the evening, it’s more likely that you’re reading it on a mobile device than on a PC – the typical person goes mobile after 5pm and stays mobile for the rest of the night.

At SAY Media we're adapting our products to take advantage of the roughly 20 percent of page views that are coming from mobile browsers. But the cultural change taking place goes beyond our business interests. Mobile is now both how we connect with each other and how we keep company with ourselves. In many ways, mobile is the new cigarette.

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On a crowded subway train, we recently watched a man get irritated with the fellow looking over his shoulder. “Stop rubbernecking over my phone,” he scolded, and made the point a little more real with his elbow. Three tense minutes passed before the intruder sheepishly said, “Sorry, it’s just… I’ve never beat that level.” The pissed off player sighed and grabbed the shoulder of his new apprentice. “Here, let me show you.” Thus, another Angry Birds player was steered over the hump.

Smokers have no compunction about going up to someone with a cigarette and asking to bum a smoke. It comes from shared experience – they’ve all had an empty pack and a jones, so giving up a cigarette is just paying it forward. We’ve all had trouble with Level 4-14, so we’re happy to help a brother out.

Consider too the business traveler. Not because we’re a huge chunk of audience, but because we often wind up by ourselves in bars where nobody knows our name. Being alone in a pub or restaurant is a lonely experience. You can either bring a book (pathetic) or stare at other people (creepy) or try to chat up the waitress (uncomfortable for everyone). At least if you were a smoker, you could stand by the front door/communal ashtray, looking cool and possibly striking up a conversation with a fellow nic-freak. With our phone in our hand, we seem industrious and indispensable (I'm working here to close a million dollar deal), we attain the illusion of popularity (I may be sitting here, but I'm connected with a world of friends), we achieve what we always aspire to among strangers: an air of mystery.

Like a pack of Marlboro reds, this powerful machine of cool fits in our pocket so it can always be activated. Sure, it can be a crutch, yes it’s addictive – and with the Virtual Zippo app, you can even light it up.

Doug Grinspan is the Global Mobile Sales Director at SAY Media; Matt Rosenberg is Vice President of Solutions.

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