FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Monday, February 28, 2005

When Mobile Becomes Essential

How would you feel if you lost your mobile device? Of course you'd be upset or irritated, but would you feel that a part of your life were missing? Increasingly, many mobile users would feel that a part of their world would be gone if they didn't have access to their devices.

Says researcher Michael Hulme, "If we go back five years, [mobile devices] used to be fairly functional. Today we're moving towards a real time of dependency, where if we lose our mobile we begin to feel cut off from our network of friends, cut off from our contacts, and absolutely disabled. The other thing is that the mobile is very much a device of control. We are using it to control our relationships with others, how others contact us, and increasingly to control information."

A sign of a maturing technology is a certain level of dependence on it. It becomes so deeply ingrained in the way we function that losing it is incredibly disruptive. It also speaks to the growing functionality of mobile devices. As cell phones and PDAs converge, they become exponentially useful -- and, obeying Metcalfe's Law of expanding networks, the more people we know with mobile devices, the more empowering the network becomes.

Another sign that mobile devices are maturing is the arrival of second-generation mobile applications. As with the early Internet, much of the early mobile technology was experimental or "gee whiz" in nature, and not well thought through. Now, though, developers are applying lessons learned to applications that meet real user needs.

Yet one more sign that mobile devices have moved from the realm of elective to essential: the Australian government is lending cell phones to the homeless to help them find jobs.

Sources: BBC, Smart Mobs