The scary, exciting, inevitable future of the mobile phone.

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When the mobile phone started to hit the big time in the late 80’s I was a wet-behind-the ears Irish lad trying to make his way in the massive metropolis of London.

It was a time of excess, just before the crash, when Thatcher’s great and prosperous nation had yet to hit the skids of recession and negative equity.

At that time there was no better status symbol to flash in the pubs of Soho than the large, brick-like mobile phone.  Through the mid 80’s the “mobile” was seen as the city traders essential business tool.  By the time I got there they were becoming the must have tool of every middle manager from Twickenham to Walthamstow.

I don’t believe anyone could have predicted then that the ostentatious Yuppie business tool, the partner in crime of the Filofax and the pager, would go on to find a place in the hearts, minds and pockets of the hoi polloi. But that is what happened.

Today western societies are awash with mobile phones.  There are more mobile phones in developed countries than there are people. In Africa, half a billion people own a mobile, four times more people than have ever had a bank account.

The adoption of the technology has been phenomenal.

Over the most recent decade the mobile phone has even, get this, started to evolve. While many of us where happy with dumb phones or feature phones, the next great wave brought us Smart phones.  An influential minority (hello again business users) wanted their phones to do more than send or receive calls or texts.  They developed a need to see e-mails on a handset rather than a laptop.  A Canadian company, Research in Motion successfully converted this desire into profit with the Blackberry, only to be followed by Apple.

The metamorphosis had commenced.  As the kids of business executives discovered, smartphones are also great for games.  And thanks to apps, miniature software applications that harness the technology within the phone, we now have hand held computers that can do virtually anything.

The evolved “smart” phone can now help you to tune a guitar, measure your heart rate, or guide you to your nearest bar/hospital/fascial alignment specialist (mine is in Ponsonby).  You can track delivery of parcels.  You can see how fast you’ve run.  You can even choose to receive live tweets from influential humans whether they are Kardashians in California or orbiting Astronauts.  Sometimes, if you feel like it, you can even make a call.

I tend not to.  It’s too expensive.  I prefer to see my smartphone as a connected device with multiple computational abilities that can enhance my life.  Data is my addiction.  The connection is the killer app.  We have melded our phones to the Internet or to give it the unfashionable descriptor, the information super highway.

Many years ago, Google, standing on the shoulders of Yahoo and AltaVista, condensed all of the world’s digital content into a personally prepared SERP (search engine results page).  There may actually be more than one SERP per search but no one is sure, as they never travel past the top three results.  Google has been described as an external brain and this all-knowing brain, this all-seeing eye, is now at your fingertips at any time of day thanks to the Smartphone.  More on this later.

In the meantime let us turn our attention to the current shape of the mobile phone.  It’s a block.  It’s smaller than the 80’s block it’s fair to say but it’s still a block that sits in your hand.  That is changing too.  We are about to enter the age of the wearable smartphone.  Pebble and Sony have already produced wristwatch devices that can read some information from your handset.  The rumour mill around Apple’s alleged upcoming smart watch is grinding so loudly, Samsung has had to come out and tell investors they too are developing a smart watch/phone. No one wants to miss the next boat.

Google has famously been preparing to launch internet-enabled glasses.  It’s Google Glass project is the latest development to toy with the public’s imagination and desire for innovation. “Why carry a phone when you can wear it?” seems to be the catch cry of the Twenty-Teens.

Wearable technology is merely a step down the road to a greater evolution; one that may scare and thrill people in equal measures.  Science fiction has painted a vision of the future where people and technology are intertwined.   There is even a real world movement dedicated to it. They call it transhumanism.

Whether we like it or not, I believe it’s only a matter of time before the external brain I talked about above becomes assimilated back into the physical human brain.    In it’s most basic form it is the fusing of human biological mechanisms with electronic technology.  I will call IE, integrated/embedded technology. Before long, the smartphone is going to get under our skin, literally.

Surprising as it may seem, people have been sticking digital technology under their skin for decades.  And there is already technology for planting sensors on your skin so your phone can read everything from your body temperature to your UV levels.

So where to next?

That’s the question I was asked on Seven Sharp on Thursday (and which I partly answered – you can see the show here).Screen Shot 2013-04-07 at 4.25.33 PM

We started by talking about bone conduction phones.  This technology allows sound to be transmitted through connective tissue such as the bone at the base of the skull, or above your ear.  Various scientific and military test show that this is an effective way of sending sound to the ear canal while leaving the ears open for other information.  Can I get a yuck please?

In the next decade however, phones won’t just be connected to our skulls. There’s a high likelihood they will be inside them.  Bryan Singer has seen the future and made a web series about it. In H+ the first world has gone crazy for the latest gadget, an implant developed by an Irish bio-tech start-up that plants the equivalent of smartphone software in your brain. In a nod to today’s gadget mania the first episode shows millions of people worldwide rushing to be first in line to get the new implant.

It looks similar in some ways to the communication device that people wear in Aeon Flux, the much-maligned 2005 sci-fi movie starring Charlize Theron.  Here we see Aeon getting a call from the boss’s receptionist…

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Sticking with sci-fi, I have to say the lack of embedded technology in Minority Report was a major plot hole for me.  While even billboards were able to communicate with John Anderton, the police had to conduct room to room searches to find him when he went on the run.  Surely if he had a smartphone in his brain the cops could have used the “find my fugitive” function?

A weak attempt at humour that may be but it is actually the crux of the issue in relation to IE technology.  In the future when our phones, or computer connected devices are integrated and embedded, the powers that be will know where we are at all times. And they say only the paranoid survive online!

Embedded technology has always had a special allure for the gadget geek. Who wouldn’t want to live the like the bionic man, with expensive technology on the inside making you more efficient and daring on the outside.  Is it time to think about how far we go with this evolution?

The power of the internet, the equality of communication, the efficiency of technology.  It’s an alluring mix, but do we really want to be tied to our phones, figuratively and literally?

49 thoughts on “The scary, exciting, inevitable future of the mobile phone.

    • lol Isn’t that always the way? In the 50’s, kids were basically told that in the future (ie um… now-ish), everyone would be lfying around with jet-packs. And many didn’t live to see the day we finally… err…. Well, I suppose that’s a bad example.

      But I think there’s always that sense of, “I won’t live to see the day this happens”, and it’s remarkable to think the thoughts and ideas nevertheless find their way of happening, despite the change in guard.

  1. Wow. A great read! If we can also start the car with a fingerprint, and use credit cards by having an eyescan, we won’t have to remember anything as we leave the house!

  2. There is an inherent danger in becoming overly-reliant on the technology that seeks to simplify the interactions of our daily lives. Ironically, they wind up complicating them much further.

    If you haven’t already flipped through Neil Postman’s “Technopoly” or Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows” — I recommend them both. Simple language describing widely relatable subjects, both forewarning of a potentially dangerous descent into the transhumanism you described.

  3. At what point will people say “enough is enough” and retain their humanity? Or do you think most people are willing to accept technological solutions–even when it comes to our bodies and minds? It’s pretty fascinating, especially when the newest gadget comes out and is embraced (usually) without second thought. As for Google Glass, I’m out.
    Great blog, and congrats on the FP.

    • Thanks bluegrasspb. It’s an honour to be chosed for Freshly Pressed. I guess the point I’m making is that we need to be careful – convenience now could lead to subservience later on. When the TV was first invented many people saw it as a device that could build and shape societies. Look how we use it now, as (virtually) dumb receivers. We need to master our technology, not become its servant.

  4. Yeah, really thought-provoking entry..
    I do think that people are becoming so much more tied to their phones. Its like their extended arm.
    Even for myself, I sometimes feel the need to take a peek at my device, eventhough I know that there will not be any messages there.

  5. Honestly, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable with the wearable gadgets, and even more with the implanted ones.

  6. Excellent post.
    I agree on Minority Report. It’s one of my top Sci-Fi films but there were some major holes, one being the lack of embedded technology when so much else was included. Eye transplants and no hand/ear implanted phones/communication devices, really?

  7. Reblogged this on mom305 and commented:
    Sci-Fi post: I’m re-blogging this one because has very good points in his post. I think the cell phone will evolve into something so much bigger than what they are today. That says something, because today cell phones are everywhere and do just about everything that was once only done on PC’s. I wonder what a similar post will say 20 years from now….

  8. Enough people want to be and are controlled by technology. By the time they figure it all out, it will be too late for them. Technology should be controlled by the human. No one is watching to see the abuses that technology is bringing because too many people see technology through pink glasses and are stuck in the “gee, whiz, cool” phase.

  9. Great post – well written and very interesting. Also terrifying. I’ve had conversations about this with my husband, and I find it horrifying when he jokes about us having chips implanted in the future. Although I’m in my late twenties, I’m not a huge fan of all these technology crazes, and I must admit that I get worried when thinking what the future holds for our kids’ generation! Already with phones some people don’t know how to disconnect and have to constantly be checking something. As much as I do love certain technology (skype is a favorite, because family is all over the world), I do hope it never goes so far as us having chips implanted…

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post and congrats on being freshly pressed!

  10. Wow! I believe technology is wonderful used in it’s proper mode., as usual MAD sciencetist alway’s have to take things to the extreme and this will become one of the most evil’s to come, of course implanting chips has been being tested for quite sometime in our animals and I’ve always thought that movies also forewarn us as to what’s coming so that when it does arrive we’ve already seen it and are more apt to accept it. Great post that should be spread like wildflower’s.

  11. In my university days I had an old Nokia phone. I used it to take pictures of notices on the noticeboard so that I didn’t have to write down the info. I kept my power-point notes on it cause I didn’t want to lug my laptop to the library. I took pictures of me and my gf on our dates and its the reason that so many of our spur of the moment memories were preserved on photo. listening to music on the bus , reading while on queue , keeping my reminders. I even used it to video my uni life and show to my parents when i came for holidays. That simple phone really enriched my life.

    Switching to another subject I’ve always been fascinated by Extra Sensory Perception. Mind reading, moving objects just by thinking, remote viewing. Now we can see what people are thinking and dreaming by using images from fMRI. Paralyzed patients can move bionic limbs and computer cursors just by thinking. we can check distant places and view maps using cellphones. Perhaps we will all have ESP soon , not by magical hokey pokey ; but with the implanted chip phones you’re talking about 🙂

  12. I agree with your article. Technology has now currently revolutionised the world. It can be seen everywhere, within the classroom to mobile phones. Technology is now used to appeal to both critical and creative thinkers. This allows for students to pick their own questions and then scaffold or rather piece the information together. It is important to know a person’s thinking process and furthermore allow for a variety of forms of presenting data and research.

  13. Nice article. As one who hovers in the shady area of technology, The day you describe worries me more than most. I would be one of the first to “get” the device, but I would need to remove it or find a way to interface with it, in order to “restrict” it.

    I fear the day when technology enters our body, and envision an outcome like that of Doctor Octopus’ AI arms from the HORRIBLE Spiderman movie. but the point was, that when using technology so closely with ourselves, it DOES stand a chance to do things we NEVER intended.

    The younger generations have horrible attention spans, and an inability to form complete thoughts or responses, due to the proliferation of social media and twitter they think in 140 character responses.

    we rely too much on technology, and don’t test it enough to see the flaws in the system, until someone (a hacker in cases like this) makes people into walking bot-nets via their implant-phones.

    then there is the “legitimate” misuse by government or employers that will happen, as is always the case. The powerful seek to become more powerful and do so at the expense of those unwilling to fight the oncoming tide of attacks against our privacy.

    I cannot count the number of times that I have actually heard friends in my line of work (tech support) utter, “well, I don’t expect to have any privacy, so it doesn’t matter” … DOESN’T MATTER?!?!??!!

    sorry, I got off on a tangent and started ranting. all that matters right now, is that I thoroughly enjoyed your post. Keep up the good work!

  14. Reblogged this on Earn Money With Paul and commented:
    I have a hard time just answering my “smartphone” keeps locking me out :)and the spam callers hate that 🙂 ,but as is refered to in a lot of comments on this blog,I doubt I’ll live to see implanted phone’s-Thank God 🙂

  15. indeed that does sound alluring but if the devices are actually embedded into my brain or under my skin wouldn’t that be sort of invading your personal space since they might know what you are thinking, where you are and what you are doing? that would be horrible! i think im going to keep them at arm’s length.

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