Archive for August, 2008

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It is a different time we live in, one where we obsolete our tools long before they are obsolete. Cell phones are routinely replaced long before the two year contract that many sign with their providers has ended. This has little to do with functionality, even though battery life and new features may play a role in the decision, it has more to do with the cool factor.

And for those who are sporting a two year old Motorola Razr, the new iPhone3G looks pretty sexy, if sexy is what turns you on. I’ve heard that some people actually use many of the new functions available while they’re impressing their friends. For me, being the near Luddite that I am, I want to be able to make a phone call without being disconnected and occasionally send a text message, even though an IM would be infinitely more desirable.

But all of that is about to change, and change in a major way.

For those of us who believe communications is important, you know, the kind of people who actually care about spelling and try to make sure we are clear in what we write, we have long understood the shortcomings of the written words. Heck, most of us are envious of people like Joseph Heller or Kurt Vonnegut for their incredible ability to sculpt the written word, elevating writing to an actual art form. We have long known that communicating in writing largely removes the ability to convey emotions or even sarcasm – that aspect is stripped away, leaving the cold, written word to stand on its own.

Telephone was an improvement, at least the inflection in the voice would make its way from one end to the other, but the inability to look someone in the eye, to pick up the non-verbal clues, or to “read” body language still left one at a disadvantage.

But all of that is about to end…

We now are at the beginning of a new age, one where telepresence allows one to have a “face to face” conversation from halfway around the world, a world where no matter where you are, you’re there (if you want to be) and a world where the ability to hide your true emotions will behind a voice call may slowly disappear. The author makes no judgment as to whether this is a good or bad thing, it only is and that change will need to be accounted for, as well as gotten used to – because, like it or not, our world is about to be transformed.

It should be pointed out that this is not just a change in communications, it is a change in access. A shift to where a firefighter will have the information necessary to know what the floor plan in a building looks like and where dangerous chemicals might be stored. As technology progresses he might have real-time information as to who remains in the building, right down to what room they are in and even the health of the person trapped there – all provided at a loss of our privacy.

This will be a time when all the information anyone would need would be right there with them, wherever they go, accessible as necessary – obviously for a fee and only to those who can afford it.

And that may be where we will need to examine what we have built. With all the potential for good this may do, have we built something that is useful to society? Will this further exchange where we have given up even more of our privacy be worth it as the advertising we receive now knows where are, that it has been six hours since we last ate and that we are probably hungry, as an unfeeling device pushes a list of restaurants that serve our favorite foods all the while as it crosschecked our bank account to screen out the restaurants we cannot afford? From there will it report to our doctor that we cheated on our diet or even prevent the restaurant from serving us what we ordered in favor of something healthier? Or will this service become more mercenary as it targets the most vulnerable among us and feeds them directly to the sharks most likely to take advantage of them.

After all, this is a for profit service…