In the end, all it took to connect the world was tiny speaker, a little microphone, and a whole lot of cable. From its conception the telephone emerged as a life altering invention, facilitating the nearly instantaneous communication we take for granted today. For the very first time in human history, friends and family were able to contact each other at any time, regardless of distance. It was a complete paradigm shift towards interconnected communities of people, all available and continuously open to one another.
Let us go back at the time (just a decade ago) when this big change was introduced to us.
The phone transformed the way people approach social life. The phone gave us the ability to make spontaneous plans; phone calls quickly replaced letters as the preferred form of long distance interaction, and today mobile phones have reached a status of ubiquity never before seen in a household appliance. From personal experience I find that cell phones have become a social hub, allowing for an unprecedented amount of control over making plans on the fly. The freedom allows for better coordination of our social lives.
Many Americans today are dropping traditional phone lines and making a cell phone their primary line. As technology improves, cell phones will become more and more sophisticated, and will connect us in incredible ways. There is one key innovation maturing alongside mobile technology that will open an entirely new chapter in the way we share information and communicate with each other.
At the same time that mobile phones began to work their way into public consciousness, the Internet was shifting the way that we store and share information. Transmission of information across great distance was finally possible, providing a network of information accessible by anyone with an Internet connection.
More importantly, maybe, is the vast and diverse user base. As of 2000, fifty-six percent of Americans were connected to the Internet; by 2006 the number had jumped to eighty-one. The social connectivity that cell phones produced was echoed on the web, where chat rooms and instant messaging connected people with similar interests across countries. Email revolutionized the way employees communicate with each other in the office.
In recent years, social networking websites have made the networks formed by cell phones concrete/tangible. Sluggish dial-up connections proved frustrating to work with because of its inherent speed limits. Broadband Internet, on the other hand, has gained footing in recent years, and now fifty-eight percent of Americans have cable or DSL modems, compared to thirty-eight percent with dial-up connections. Wi-Fi, the wireless standard for high-speed Internet, is gaining popularity across the country. Every college campus I visited before starting college boasted some form of wireless Internet access, and most computers manufactured today have wireless capabilities built in.
With both wireless technologies growing at the same time, it’s no wonder they’ve begun to resemble one another. Cell phone companies are investing money into faster wireless networks that will be able to provide typical web-based media: sports scores, updated stocks and weather, email, streaming video, even AOL instant messenger. On the other side, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) allows users of programs like Skype to make phone calls from their laptops using a Wi-Fi signal.
The next logical step is to move the Internet from computers to cell phones. It was only recently that sophistication in cell phones began to grow exponentially. Digital technology let users download ring tones for their phones, but integration of Wi-Fi will allow unparalleled access to the vast stores of information available online.
Mobile Internet will keep us connected to the web twenty-four hours a day. It will also provide incredibly accurate on-the-spot information; for example, if you get lost on the way to a friend’s housewarming party, you could call him up, ask for his address, go online to mapquest.com, type in the address to get directions, hang up with your friend and pick a song to play for the drive…all in one device.
The major media trend a decade ago and to date in cell phones will be convergence of several media on one device-they’ll assume an all-in-one role in our daily lives. The best example of where mobile media was heading is a product called the Apple iPhone.
The iPod is the brainchild of Steve Jobs, Apple Inc.’s founder and CEO. Jobs envisioned an mp3 player that would be elegant but powerful, and his invention lived up to his hopes. The iPod mp3 player, coupled with Apple’s iTunes music software shook the market up. The iPod itself has gone trough many changes, and the latest iteration has the capacity to play video, further evidence of convergence of media into single devices. The iPhone is the most prominent of a group of next-generation cellular phones that take the philosophy of mobile Internet to heart. These “smart” phones as they’re called will be aware of your location, give you directions, suggest restaurants, take digital camera quality pictures, and play movies and music.
Apple’s iPhone is based around the concept of blending a computer with a phone. Other companies have built phones with this premise in mind, but none have come close to Apple’s breakthrough interface. The phone is about the same size as an iPod, but the entire face is a long, shiny screen that was sized specifically to play widescreen movies. There is only one button, and the entire screen is touch sensitive. Apple ported a version of its OS X operating system, which blurs the line between phone and computer with full text editing software, single-purpose news feeds called widgets, and the first full HTML browser available in a phone.
Other companies haven’t sat around idle, though. When the HSDPA (high speed downlink packet access) mobile network is finished, compatible phones will be able download data at speeds up to 14 mb/s-for comparison, my Wi-Fi network rarely makes it above 1 mb/s. In commercials the company Helio asks not to be called a phone company; its phones are touted as all-around multimedia devices. One interesting component that I think will become very popular is the buddy beacon. Any of your friends with GPS enabled phones that turn on their buddy beacons will immediately become visible on your buddy beacon map, a visual representation of your social network in the real world.
In the future, I believe that the trend towards wireless broadband Internet access will continue to revolutionize communications. Mobile devices will grow more refined, and technology will improve to the point where all of our information can be obtained and accessed anywhere in the world at anytime.
It sounds far fetched, but wireless technology expands its reach everyday. Wi-Fi signals are great if you have a router, but otherwise the signal doesn’t travel very far and can’t bend around walls (compared to cell phone signals). WiMax is a recent invention that gets around this by using amplifiers in each router to boost the signal as it passes through. In the near future, it will bring Internet to otherwise secluded areas of the world.
With the advent of the Internet, we moved from the industrial to the information age. Very soon I believe we’ll see the emergence of a new interconnected age and an information economy.