Everything is Going Mobile

By Richard A. Quinnell

More than a decade ago I attended a two-day seminar that Intel sponsored on “Communicating the Future.” The topics covered at the seminar included opinions from many speakers on the future of communications. One speaker, Professor Nicholas Negroponte of MIT’s Media Lab, told us that the whole information structure was backwards. We had our communications (telephones) hard wired while our entertainment (radio and TV) broadcast over radio frequencies. He believed that our communications should be wireless because of business mobility and our entertainment hard-wired to our places of rest and relaxation.

He got it half right.

Today, everything is going wireless. Certainly communications has made the transition. Cellular telephony is quickly replacing land lines, allowing us to maintain a single telephone number and remain accessible virtually anywhere in the world. The up-and-coming generation is beginning to use cell phones exclusively for their communications. If they have a land line, it is for their Internet connection.

But even Internet connections are going wireless, along with computing. Wireless LAN access points are popping up all across the country. PDAs and smart cell phones are providing portable links to the network along with laptop PCs, all fostering computing on the move. The network link is even beginning to replace the cell phone for communications as VoIP comes to wireless networking.

Then there is entertainment. Radio and television have traditionally been broadcast access, but they are becoming even more so. Satellite radio is making specific stations available world-wide. And television is beginning to be broadcast to the same category of PDA and cell phone units that are providing mobile Internet access. People are watching ball game highlights with their cell phones on the commuter train ride home.

The result is a tremendous degree of connectedness. It is a rare occasion now that someone is inaccessible. Unavailable, perhaps, because time is becoming a precious commodity, but not inaccessible. In fact, people are hard-pressed to get away when they want to be left alone.

This connectedness is magnifying our ability to exchange information, ideas, opinions, and insights. It makes every waking moment an opportunity to conduct business. Our automobiles are becoming temporary offices as we commute from place to place. Business and personal lives are blending together as the barriers between work and home are being erased

At the same time as providing connectedness, wireless communications is contributing to our isolation. We sit in restaurants, walk along the street, ride in cars, and we talk or message or e-mail. To do so, we pull an invisible barrier around ourselves to create an illusion of privacy as we communicate. The relentless stream of information and conversation coming across the radio spectrum repeatedly draws us inside that barrier for yet another call, another message. The result is that we spend our days communicating across the world, and lose touch with the world at our fingertips.

Everything has gone mobile, not just communications. Online shopping makes stores mobile, going to the consumer rather than having the consumer come to them. E-books and MP3 players have made our libraries and record collections equally mobile, able to come with us wherever we go. Our businesses are carried around in our PDAs and laptops.

In all this mobility, something has been left behind. We are forgetting how to be still, how to be quiet. It is in this still and quiet that we remember how to be human. We need that time for reflection and recovery. Fortunately, we were wise enough to put an “off” button on all these mobile devices. We just need to remember to use it once in a while.