Imagine if you will, six billion people own a mobile phone, laptop, or Tablet PC that is connected to the Internet via some type of wireless network — whether through a Wi-Fi, cellular-wireless, WiMAX, or some other networking method yet to come. Image that at the moment that all of those connections are made that we would just have the question of "what next?" Where does all of this accessibility, usability, and mobility lead to? What happens when this "nirvana" of mobile computing happens?
In a recent Brighthand article, we talked about how one of Palm Inc.’s founders, Jeff Hawkins, has been in the process of creating a new product line within Palm. This has been rumored to be everything from the already existing LifeDrive from Palm, to an all new UMPC/Tablet PC-type device, to a subscription service where one’s information is stored on Palm’s servers but accessible anywhere and at anytime. One of the things that gets me about those rumors and suppositions is that none of those things address what is the crux of what will be the problem – how exactly do we address the question of "what next, now that you are mobile?"
The entire quote from Jeff Hawkins is:
I always think of mobile computing as personal computing. This long-term vision has led us through everything — first the organizers and now through the smart phone space. It’s like everything a personal computer is. Continue down that path. What are the implications of a world where everyone has a super high-speed Internet connection in their pocket and many gigabytes of storage, super-fast processors, audio, visual and multimedia? What are the consequences of that? How will that change computing when you have all that stuff available to you all the time? I try to think into the future. That’s how we come up with new products. So I’m not going to tell you what it is, but it’s following the consequences of mobile computing.
It seems to me, Hawkins is talking about a device, a service, and a combination of those elements at the same time. Following the general path of those things mobile that Mr. Hawkins has been involved in, I would have to say that it will be a device and/or service that solves an issue of communication and connectivity that has probably been thought of, but never executed simply.
But What Are the Implications?
However, it’s a related point that prompted this editorial, and which I hope to pique your curiosity. I’m not talking about Hawkins’ product, but your role in the solution to what could become a grave problem.
What are the implications of a world where everyone has a super high-speed Internet connection in their pocket and many gigabytes of storage, super-fast processors, and constant access to audio, visual and multimedia? What will the consequences be? How will that change computing when you have all that stuff available to you all the time? You see, the question is no longer how far can we go with smaller, faster, shiner, but what will our responsibilities be when the physical limitations have been met.
I prefer to think that the implications of mobile computing can and will take us to roads that will not just change the way we look at technology, but ultimately how we look at and relate to one another.
Positive and Negative
On one end, there are the negative consequences, such as a loss of personal freedom as not only our moves are traced and logged, but also what we watch, listen to, and communicate to our friends, families and associates is recorded. We could lose touch with what makes us human — typing replaces our handwriting and there is a loss of personal identity; voice clips instead of conversations when we are sitting at the same table with one another; learning how to manage a network becomes more celebrated than understanding how to manage one’s time between work and family.
And yet there are so many positive possibilities. The barriers to education that mobile technology can break for those in areas where paper and pen have had the hardest time getting to but a mobile phone has not. We see the shrinking of our world and a generation that no longer defines itself just by its physical and political borders, but through social networking people find common interests to share and learn about one another in ways language barriers cannot block. We see people empowered to leave their desks job, leave the classroom, and engage the natural world more; knowing that they will not miss vital work nor important family moments because the technology is an accepted connector of those most shared moments.
Looking at Jeff Hawkins’ statement has made a lot of Palm/Palm OS fans excited, and rightfully so. There has not been much of anything innovative in the mobile space since the Treo 600, Google, and a few others. There is an expectation that we should be closer to the Jetsons than the Flintstones. And to some degree, yes we should. The way that the Internet, mobile technology, and people are evolving gives me no doubt whatsoever that we are getting there.
However, if we don’t stop to look at exactly where it is we’re going, we will miss the critical value of all of this technology: it’s ability to bring us together.. Nothing has ever been more powerful than the human relationship, and nothing ever will be. If technology, specifically mobile technology, cannot foster that (but breaks it), then it is better that we throw it away, not run faster towards it.