As part of my traveling around last week, I was cut off from the net for the several days. Not completely, of course. I mean I carry a laptop that can theoretically connect to open wireless hotspots -- but in practice that can take a while sometimes, and often there isn't a hotspot when you have downtime. That combined with the fact that stranger hotspots are sometimes hard to manage the first time, like the ones that want you to pay or give them a room number or whatever. I should probably just go EVDO and leave the 802.11.b issues behind . . .
Anyway, the end result of all this moving around was that everywhere I went there were people on the net, but for a host of reasons I was not among their number. I did have my blackberry of course, which gave me access to email, and a mini-browser. But the berry connection is kinda slow and you can only do so much with a 2 inch screen and two-thumb keyboard. I can consume a little content with my berry, and I can give short answers to simple questions, but the tiny screen and the mini-input device make me more passive than I like to be.
Once you're used to being wired, suddenly falling out of touch feels like losing a sense. Its incredibly frustrating to go from being completely connected to suddenly sipping through a straw. There's a document you want, a picture you need, an answer you can't recall. Under normal circumstances you're seconds away, but without your tools you're suddenly out of luck.
Every time I begin to doubt that ubiquitous technology is important, I have an experience like this that reinforces for me just how valuable packing major tech heat really is.
These days I figure the fully equipped technoman carries:
- a blackberry, to allow immediate spoken and written communication with others similarly augmented and to allow mini-browser access to the Internet to get and give short answers to basic questions;
- * an 802.11b or EVDO-enabled laptop to enable immediate access to the sum total of human knowledge, as well as one's personal digital archive. The laptop is also the tool to create meaningful and persistant content;
- an ipod, to extend the carbon-based memory to allow immediate recall of high quality audio and video with perfect fidelity, perhaps augmented with a microphone to allow for high-fidelity audio capture;
- a digital camera, to facilitate the capture of visual memories with perfect fidelity
On the backend, you need a monthly cell contract and a wireless high speed data connection where you work and where you live. You’re also gonna need a place to backup your personal digital archive, either on DVD or a backup disk, or a desktop system.
ASIDE: Speaking of personal digital archives, I notice Google announced an updated Google Desktop on Friday that allows a user to search for files on multiple machines.
My grad students and I outlined a system like this almost 3 years ago (see Tangle1, Tangle2, Tangle3), and two of my students, Jason Schneekloth and Brian Mila successfully defended theses on the model. Jason went on to Microsoft, and last I heard Brian was starting a company to create wall-sized lava lamps. If only we had patented .
Between the portable hardware and the backend, that's a lot of elements, but I think they each play a role. Leave out the cell phone and its hard to organize your life, hard to make arrangements with people and maintain your close relationships. You can even imagine using your cell to consume content, but try to operate with only a cell phone, and you're left with very limited access to the Internet. Any serious content creation is completely impractical. Leaving out the laptop means leaving out active content creation. The laptop is the most cost effective and convenient way to carry around your personal digital archive, allowing you to make the most of every minute of downtime. I guess the ipod and the camera aren't critical. But it is really cool to be able to add perfect fidelity visual and audible memories to your personal store. Sure you can do without an ipod maybe, but a lot of people really love music, and as video content and podcasts and other kinds of portable material become increasingly available, the ability to wear an iPod round your neck to give you access to lectures, explanations, and language tapes as well as vintage Zevon tunes is a compelling case. The sheer portability of the ipod lets you go light and fast a lot of the time, leaving the laptop in your bag unless you're really getting down to it.
I can't see how to do away with any of the elements and still be fully outfitted. I used to believe in convergence, but now I'm not so sure. I guess if the ipod and the phone fused that would work for me as long as battery life was good. Maybe the camera in the phone is good too, though the resolution of the pictures is not so great. I've given up predicting device futures anyway. Clearly every year the basic configuration will change as power gets easier to deliver, and things continue to nano-ize.
I know it isn’t everyone’s opinion, but personally I think all this tech makes life richer. Beyond that opinion there's a more fundamental competitive question though. If in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king, will technical augmentation become the price of admission? If augmented technoman has significant advantage over his un-augmented counter-part, then is augmenting yourself part of "being all you can be"? I wonder if we won’t start seeing various John Henryesque competitions designed to demonstrate the degree of knowledge advantage the wired have over the unwired.
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel meets Ray Kurzweil?