Knife/Gun Contest Entry: Have Smartphones Killed the Pocketknife?

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAKBy Aaron Jossie

Recently I gave a short presentation to a group of about 25 guys between the ages of 18 and 40 or so. As part of an object lesson related to my presentation, I asked if anyone in the room had a pocketknife or a flashlight on them. I wasn’t really surprised to find out that I was the only one in the room with a flashlight (Maratac AAA), but I was stunned that not one person in the room, other than myself, had a pocketknife on them. Why didn’t anyone else have a pocketknife?…

Because in the 21st Century, the smartphone has killed the pocketknife. Only a few of us, relatively speaking, have insisted on combining the two tools despite limited pocket space and despite the probable overwhelming bias toward using the smartphone during the day.

Up front, I’m not saying smartphones are bad. They are much more of a daily urban “tool” than a knife will ever be, especially if your surroundings are paved with concrete, so to speak. Which is exactly my point. For the majority of people out there, getting by from day to day in an urban setting necessitates reaching for the phone more than the knife. Think of it this way, when was the last time you needed a knife to open an email? If you’ve got some spare time, do you pull that little half-finished wooden duck out of one pocket and a Case Stockman out of the other and whittle away a few minutes? I didn’t think so.

As so many of us are entrenched in the urban landscape in order to keep our lights on and food on the table, the number of tasks we complete each day are not exactly filled with the need to cut stuff, and therefore, for lots of people, a knife just doesn’t find its way into a pocket (much less a flashlight).

On the other hand, a smartphone cannot do what a knife does. They are completely different tools that serve completely different purposes. So in a way, it really comes down to understanding your typical daily tasks and preparing accordingly. For those of us who carry pocketknives, the reasons are many and don’t really matter here. If you kept a list (either on your smartphone or on actual paper, with those things that have ink or graphite in them) of all the times you removed your smartphone from your pocket versus all the times you remove your pocketknife from your pocket, the tally would most likely favor the smartphone. Again, for us who carry a knife daily no matter what, this tally wouldn’t matter, but for others, if the need isn’t commensurate with the amount of use, then there’s no need to carry it.

Lastly, in my opinion, the biggest offenders are the media and public schools. Kids these days are growing up in an era where everywhere they turn around, anything that can be considered a weapon is a bad thing. No knives in schools, no knives on planes, no knives anywhere if you’re a minor. The media hates them. Schools hate them. But smartphones are okay. The younger generation is growing up without pocketknives and if they’ve never learned the value of them, they don’t miss them when they can carry them. But take away the smartphone and there might be riots in the streets.

Will people continue to become interested in knives and will more people carry and use knives than before? Maybe. But for many, the smartphone has taken over the pocket space and there is no turning back. For them I feel bad, but if they ever need to cut something, I’ll gladly lend them a blade and encourage them to take a dip in this water that us “knife guys (or gals)” surround ourselves with.


  1. Aharon says:

    I don’t think the smart phone killed the pocket knife. I think it replaced the pocket knife. The schools, mass media, Hollywood, etc almost always depict a person (especially a teen) with a pocket knife as a dangerous social misfit. It would be um interesting if not sad to learn the results of a survey tallying how many teenage boys carry a pocket knife vs. carry a beauty product (combs excluded).

  2. Jeff says:

    I’ve got a smart phone in a holster on my left hip, Kershaw folder in my right pocket, Leatherman Charge on my belt with a AAA powered Fenix E05 in the sheath as well, and I’m even wearing a tie to work today.
    So what do you call the thing you put your phone in and attach it to your belt? In a quick search I found pouch, clip, case and holster, but not “sheath.” Since sheath is defined as “a close fitting cover for something, especially something that is elongated,” it seems like it would work for a phone. On the other hand, Leatherman calls their sheaths “cases.” Is it only a sheath if it’s a fixed blade? Sounds like another article…

  3. Mike says:

    I carry at least one “smart phone” daily. I have carried two pocket knives most of my life and at 64 that’s been a while. One has always been a small Case with 2 1/4 inch blade. My current Case has been in my pocket about 5 years. Roughly 2 years ago, at the urging of a good friend, I bought my first Kershaw, 1660G10, Ken Onion design. This one has a 3 inch blade and has become my go to knife for defenseive training. Love it and can’t imagine leaving it or the Case at home. I also carry a firearm (9mm or 380 based on dress). The only change I’ve made is a move to cargo pants, much to my wife’s dismay.

  4. Mark N. says:

    People who work with their hands carry knives and Leatherman’s. People who work in offices generally do not. If you have to go through security checkpoints with any regularity (on the other side of which guns and knives are banned) it is inconvenient to carry. But then again, we must also consider the number of knives relinquished to the TSA every year, and the fact that the knife business seems to be booming. So I understand the impression–as far as I know, I was the only one in my office to have a knife in his pocket–the reality may be something different.

  5. Defens says:

    The obvious answer – a SmartLeatherman, combining the functions of a smartphone with a compartment for handy cutting tools and a dinky pliers. Or maybe build the tools into a smartphone case, using those really thin Tool Logic blades, tweezers, etc.

  6. janklow says:

    smartphone in the front pocket, knife in the back pocket. what’s so challenging about that?

  7. Ken Hagler says:

    I stopped carrying a cell phone years ago, although I do carry an iPod Touch for the “pocket computer” functions. It never even occurred to me that one could possibly be construed as “killing” the other, as they do totally different things.

    It’s a good thing my iPod hasn’t replaced my pocket knife, as it would be awfully expensive to open packages of food if I had to throw my iPod on the ground and stomp on it until it broke apart in jagged fragments every time.

  8. Aragorn says:

    Cargo pants and cargo shorts are wonderful things.

  9. PubliusII says:

    I keep a couple of useful pocket knives in my desk at the office. There’s no security gateway to pass, but I just find it handy to have a couple on hand. They are all small enough (Vic SAK Classic, small lockback) as not to freak out any soccer-mom who sees it.

    At appropriate times I haul one out and use it, making a non-pushy point to show its utility. On a couple of occasions, when people have reacted to is, I say in a reasonable tone that I was carrying a larger knife (camper-style) when I was a Boy Scout — and that an identical knife to mine was carried by Girl Scouts.

    It’s helpful these days if you can position a comment or issue to make it clear that girls back then were less wussy than they are today. Also, that carrying a small useful tool such as a pocket knife is empowering for girls.

    I despise political correctness as enforced thought reform. But there are occasions when you can throw it back in their faces — gently, of course, so they don’t immediately sense your contempt for them.

  10. Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    I don’t know where you live, but I can assure you that in Wyoming, nearly everyone has a folding knife of some sort. You can go down the hallways of the local community college and the vast majority of males will have a folder clipped into their right hip pocket of their Wranglers or Carhartts.

    A man without a knife is little more than a noisy chimp.

  11. C says:

    My smartphone has a flashlight app and i feel naked without my pocketknife.

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Knife/Gun Contest Entry: Have Smartphones Killed the Pocketknife?

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