Thoughts on the smartphone revolution

I was sitting on the bus the other day, watching at least two people around me playing with their iPhones, and I got to thinking. Those of us alive today are lucky enough to be witnessing a pretty major shift in the development of human civilization. No, no, I’m serious. Hear me out.

I think we’re getting close to the point where we can stop thinking of personal computing and the Internet—be they delivered on a smartphone or a PC—as discrete tools and start thinking of them as an extension of our brains. Almost like early precursors to sci-fi brain upgrades, really. I think smartphones in particular have crystallized that notion, providing near-universal access to information and extra thinking power with previously unequaled convenience.

Think about it: if you have a modern consumer smartphone, you can know exactly where you are, where your friends are, and look up almost anything about anything with a few taps and swipes, anywhere, anytime. You can find out instantly what stars you’re looking at in the sky or what music is playing over the loudspeakers at the drug store. You can solve an equation for x or swipe a bar code to see if you’re getting the best deal on a product. You can buy a book off Amazon and read it right there or find out what news is being reported all over the world at that instant. Even 10 years ago, having that kind of power, not just in a tiny handheld device, but in a tiny handheld device that everyday people feel compelled to carry in their pockets, would have sounded like science fiction. Yet here we are.

I think this is just the beginning, though. In a few years, I expect people will begin to recognize that having and using these proto-brain-upgrades is becoming quintessential to our ability to function in society, kind of like the ability to read and write. Being lettered, by the way, wasn’t always viewed as a necessity, either.

Consider a high-school student being quizzed. Today, not knowing an answer off the top of his head would result in lost points and a potential F. Tomorrow? I reckon looking up the answers on the Internet, either with a smartphone or some more advanced device, will be seen as perfectly normal. The previously unequaled proximity of our minds to the pool of collective human knowledge means using a networked computing device to make up for gaps in personal knowledge will be no more “cheating” than, say, using language to exchange information with another human being or building a fire to keep warm.

In other words, I think we’re headed toward a future where communication is so accelerated and our thinking abilities are so expanded by technology that humanity ends up with a sort of hive mind. Our personal knowledge might become not unlike cache memory, a mere stepping stone to the multi-terabyte RAID of available knowledge—and getting from one to the other might become nearly as quick. Similarly, our thinking and reasoning power might become comparable to the slow ARM processors in today’s smartphones, which can talk to server farms full of powerful multi-core CPUs over the airwaves. Rather than being assimilated like the Borg, I think we’ll be augmented with the collective pool of human knowledge and the capabilities of our best machines at all times.

I’ve experienced the hive mind phenomenon in its early stages countless times, using Wikipedia, IMDB, Wolfram Alpha, and random Google searches to supplement conversations, be they over instant messages or in real life, without really thinking about it. With fast Internet access anywhere I happen to be, the frustration of, say, having the name of an actor or a word on the tip of my tongue has become an eerily antiquated notion. It’s a bit like that Seinfeld episode where George tries and fails to find Jerry, Elaine, and Susan at the movies—a situation that would be easily resolved by a couple of quick text messages today. Over a little more than a decade, we’ve completely taken ubiquitous communication via cell phones for granted. I don’t think what I propose is a great leap from that.

This all brings me to another, interesting observation: the unlikely facilitator of this monumental transition is Apple. No, really, think about it: this company has been there at every turn. The Apple II and Mac precipitated the arrival of easy-to-use home computers, and in recent years, the iPhone has precipitated the rise of smartphones—which, as I’ve said, are crystallizing the notion that information technology is becoming an extension of ourselves.

Before January 9, 2007, the devices people called smartphones were mostly business-oriented, not nearly as easy to use, as desirable, as convenient, or as affordable. Today, you can get an Android phone with a big, comfortable touch screen and a fast web browser for free with a two-year contract from some carriers. That phone, incidentally, will offer speedy web browsing courtesy of the WebKit engine, which is Apple’s baby. Would Android, Windows Phone 7, or webOS function the way they do and have such a reach among consumers, let alone exist, if the iPhone hadn’t come along? I don’t think so.

Some of you might now point out that Apple didn’t invent big touch screens and that WebKit is actually based off of KHTML, which was coded up by some Linux geeks in Germany. That’s true, and it’s actually a pretty good example of Apple’s MO: taking good, promising technology, polishing it to the point where it’s consumer-friendly, and bringing it into the mainstream, usually with expertly devised marketing. It’s not necessarily about innovating, more like being in the right place at the right time with the right goals. Somehow, though, that formula has made Apple a trailblazer in the industry.

Apple is clearly reaping the rewards of its huge influence, too. Despite failing to cash in during the late 80s and 90s, Apple now makes more money than Microsoft and briefly became the second most-valued company on the planet in September… right after PetroChina, an oil company. How fitting.

For all its downsides, I think it’d be foolish to argue that oil hasn’t provided man with a previously unimaginable ability to move and shape the world around him (if my math is right, a single gallon of gas contains the same amount of energy as about 29 hours’ worth of continuous physical work by an Olympic athlete). Meanwhile, for all its errors and flaws, Apple has put itself at the helm of an industry that can change our thinking and reasoning abilities just as radically. Today, taking motorized transport to work is the norm. Tomorrow, I think unintended ignorance will be the exception.

Comments closed
    • PetMiceRnice
    • 9 years ago

    I’m glad I never owned a mobile phone of any sort ever. I do not need to be readily available 24/7. If people need to get a hold of me, they can send an e-mail or call me and I will get back to them when I come home at my convenience. For the same reason, I’m glad I shunned Facebook, Twitter and all of these other “social networking” sites. I have other things to do with my life.

    • Luminair
    • 9 years ago
    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 9 years ago

    As far as smartphones go I was looking at phones the other day and the one thing I can say for them aside from the pure utility and potential is that ever offering on the market has drawbacks. Its all about compromise. I-phone has the worst and most stupidly expensive network. Android phones have way to much variability, and uneven support. black berry has a serries of short falls all its own. I feel like there is no magic product that really entices me into the market.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 9 years ago

    for every person who grows through the utilization of technology there are 5 people who shrink in thier own capacity through regular use/reliance on it. We here are all alot more mindful of everything happening with technology. Your average person doesn’t know their @$$ from thier elbow and this only increases their ambient reliance on others to the extent that it gratifies their needs. I think technology ultimately increases the divide between the intillectuals and those who are uterly dependent on them and thier respective contributions to society.

    • justme
    • 9 years ago

    There seem to be two basic camps: One expressing the benefits that comes from a knowledge/communication ‘utopia’, the other expressing concern that we’ve become dependant to the extent we’ve become dumber as a result.

    I don’t think these opinions are mutually exclusive, and this interconnectedness offer a highly motivated individual incredible power to achieve.

    However, the vast majority of people do not fit into this category, and for them I think the downside out-weighs the good. Many here have already pointed out their negative observations such as people who can’t do simple arithmetic or read a book for more than 10 mins.

    I think the issue is that it’s become a way to garner instant gratification, which is why one of the main uses for these devices now is gaming. Much like how the internet started for educational purposes and it’s explosion was fueled by the desire for porn. Although theoretically beneficial for educating kids, I think in reality the future it will be even harder to educate them because they will have no motivation to learn. Of course we already say this now (and from teacher’s I’ve talked to, it’s true).

    I guess that puts me in the camp of the sci-fi genre where there’s a dystopian society filled with technology with wonders but an utterly stupid populace. I can’t think of the name of one them off hand, I’d google it but I’m too lazy.. 😉

      • yogibbear
      • 9 years ago

      Brave New World? I guess you don’t read for more than 10 minutes 😛

        • kamikaziechameleon
        • 9 years ago

        I think he made a very valuable point.

      • BenBasson
      • 9 years ago

      The only argument I can see against the reliance on technology is that one day it’ll all be gone, and we’ll be left fending for ourselves in the aftermath. Personally, I think if this happens, arithmetic skills aren’t going to be the primary requirement for survival.

    • Chrispy_
    • 9 years ago

    “the iPhone succeeded despite Apple”

    Yep. Apple made the idiot-friendly interface, and the idiots (which outnumber the thinkers on this planet) threw enough money at the iPhone to turn it into a standard platform for the thinkers to develop for.

    • HisDivineShadow
    • 9 years ago

    Perhaps I’m too unplugged, but my stepbrother is very much like the “dumb terminal” you seem to think is the idea. Or, if you like, we can call him a drone, like of the Borg or the Zerg.

    No matter how you slice it, though, he fits the mold. He knows little that he hasn’t JUST googled, imdb’ed, or wikipedia’ed. You mention how it’s like a data cache, quicker, but not more extensive than what’s online. Well, his cache is very limited. He retains the info for about an hour. Within two hours, he won’t remember what he said before. Within a day, he won’t remember even talking about the matter at hand.

    You cannot catch him without his Blackberry, iPhone 4, iPad, and Macbook Air. Ever. He stares at televisions with dim awareness, barely understanding and often demanding other people explain what is happening onscreen right after it happened. His dumb terminal, drone-like brain cannot hold onto the data beyond the first glance. He’ll go to the theatre and be the guy whose face you can see in the dark, looking confused and perhaps a little annoyed, complete with the soft tip-tap sound from the device of choice’s speaker as he is putting on his twitter, “I am at the show. It sucks.”

    See, the thing is, the Hivemind concept sounds great until you remember that Hiveminds are for creatures with very little mind of their own. The Borg, the Zerg, those people in that Stephen King book (Cell), the Scourge…

    There’s a reason that the Hivemind is seen as a horrible, horrible idea. Because it reduces the individual by increasing the dependence on the Collective. A certain amount of dependence is fine. Just like a certain amount of INdependence is great. But thinking that the human race living their lives staring down at a portable device and tapping into it what they’re doing, being tracked everywhere they go, and not learning anything because everything’s a few google searches away from being known is going to be paradise, well that’s some pretty damn scary stuff.

    Imagine the world you speak of. Now imagine a natural disaster that happens to take the power grid down. The collective knowledge of the human race gone in the blink of an eye. Now all those people who didn’t bother to learn things in their brain, they just learned how to access them, to find them in the network. What do those people do?

    Moreover, I doubt a school is going to be changing the learning of skills and basic knowledge with learning to locate skills and basic knowledge on the network. I say this because you must have basic understanding of certain concepts before you could even begin to understand HOW to research said topic. Knowledge builds upon knowledge. You can’t skip one to get to the next.

    So you won’t see people becoming particle physicists because they have access to the Internet on their iPhone. There is requisite knowledge you must have and understand and be able to use that just isn’t as simple as typing in, “physics” into your google search.

    So many reasons what is in this blog is nonsense, it’s hard to know which part to laugh at. That you are trying to convince people that Apple’s the reason for everything that’s happened, well that’s laughable, too.

    Apple’s done its part. MS did its. MS did a whole lot more to bring the concept of the take-home computer to the masses than Apple ever did. Trying to say otherwise is just a lie. Apple did squat compared to the MARKET of home PC’s that MS made possible. Apple was sitting on the sidelines, confused, scratching their heads while MS was making PC’s standard in nearly every American home. Apple was sitting there, still scratching their heads, when MS integrated IE into Windows, pushing browsers into the forefront of OS’s and blending OS’s with the web. Apple was trying and FAILING with the Newton when Palm and MS were pushing the concept of the PDA.

    Don’t rewrite history. Apple’s done well by taking what Palm and MS did in PDA’s, learned and iterated on it, then made a great phone out of it. Well, a decent phone with a horrible carrier. Then they had the sense to get out of the way of the homebrew hackers and let them build apps to make the phone blow up.

    You could argue the iPhone succeeded despite Apple, not because of it. The App store was not the original intention of the iPhone, but it became its single defining feature. Games were not the original intent of the iPhone (nor the iPod Touch), but they became one of its core components. I’d argue that Apple’s meandering into these things helped make their devices powerful and awesome and beloved. A lot moreso than the walled garden, no pr0nz, and every app must be made my way mantras of one Steve Jobs.

    And one could easily make the argument that your pancea of web connectiveness is made possible not by Apple, but by the HTML5 harbingers, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Hell, you could even suggest that the Xbox Live bringing the internet into the home via the console did a lot to help get people comfortable with the idea of the internet being bonded to non-PC devices. Which led to everything else.

    Only an Apple fanatic would think that Apple led us down the Golden Path from day 1, step by step, knowingly bringing us into the Future…

      • KoolAidMan
      • 9 years ago

      No, Cyril was spot on in his analysis.

      Also, brevity is the soul of wit.

    • oldDummy
    • 9 years ago

    As I have said for many years: The “PC” is eventually going to be organic and everything that implies.
    Cloud computing will have new meaning….as will SFF.

    • spigzone
    • 9 years ago

    If by multi-TERAbyte you meant multi-EXAbyte … then yeah.

    I have multi-terabytes in my $400 Drobo.

    • AGerbilWithAFootInTheGrav
    • 9 years ago

    having the information around you is great, but using it is another point altogether…

    step 1 to idiocracy

    • Pax-UX
    • 9 years ago

    First off Cyberpunk rules and to think there’s a strong possibly I’ll see it in my lifetime kicks ass!

    But this happened with WAP it was just not very usable, plus the general masses didn’t have a clue about it and still wasn’t on the internet for the most part. It’s the social angle that’s selling all this awesome tech to the general public.

    Apps as wetware has been around for a while. But until my eyes have contact-lens with a HUD and the back of my teeth becoming a keyboard to type and my tongue a mouse pointer, we’re still not there. Don’t actually want anything to be tapped directly into my brain!

    • Palek
    • 9 years ago

    Man, this article is way too long. Does anyone know of a good iPhone app that summarizes long text into a single paragraph with mostly two-syllable words?

      • Chrispy_
      • 9 years ago

      Oh man, /[

    • Suspenders
    • 9 years ago

    Just having information at your fingertips doesn’t actually help you very much at all. In order for all that information to be useful to you, it has to be put into your head, internalized. Creativity comes from the connections between different things and ideas that goes on in your brain, and making new combinations of knowledge and experience; if it isn’t “upstairs” already, than you can’t work with it. If you don’t know it, your brain can’t go through those motions of making connections between that and the other knowledge and experience you’ve accumulated over the years.

    Just because you can look something up doesn’t add to this process at all. If you have to look it up, you don’t know it and your brain can’t chew on it. This idea of smartphones providing us with “extra thinking power” is, sorry to say Cyril, just plain wrong. They provide us with readier access to information, but the thinking part still has to be done the old fashioned way.

    • ronch
    • 9 years ago

    Yeah. 100 years from now we’ll evolve to be able to Transform and Roll Out!

    • PenGun
    • 9 years ago

    The only real problem I see is that as information has become free and easy to acquire it has stopped being stored in human minds. The problem with this is that connections that are non obvious will get discovered less often. The Ahaha moment from connections made in the mind from data contained there will become far less common.

    How big a problem that really is … I’m not sure.

    • Hattig
    • 9 years ago

    I find mobile data coverage too spotty, and smartphone screens too small to read web pages comfortably. Sites that have mobile versions are better, as they avoid the side scrolling malarky (that occurs often even when the browser tries to ensure that all HTML divs, etc, aren’t too wide for the screen).

    I think something like the iPad, with downloadable magazines and daily newspapers, works a lot better for commuting (especially with the underground part of the journey with no data access). For those of us at work, commuting time is often the best time to do our daily reading.

    Regarding web browsing: Mobile devices need to have more RAM, so that you can preload all of your web articles when you do have data access. My phone currently limits the number of tabs in the browser which is a real pain, and also loses data in tabs when memory runs low – and instead of persisting the data to reload later, it tries to re-download it. It would be nice for the mobile device to actually grab all these websites every morning at a certain time, so they’re ready for me to read.

      • pedro
      • 9 years ago

      I have its younger brother, the ‘Wildfire’. It probably doesn’t have the guts or screen to make it truly geek-worthy but I think it’s a fine phone for my purposes.

    • tech329
    • 9 years ago

    Being on the wrong side of 60 and having been in the industry since high school I assure you this can be said of each milestone along the evolutionary curve. The only constant is the certainty of the next change waiting around the bend. The particulars of each successive change have only a brief importance. Only the change itself is of consequence. Mostly because if for some reason it stops. Then we’re in trouble. We can’t sustain the world and the global population except by advancing technology of all sorts.

    • yogibbear
    • 9 years ago

    I don’t have a smart phone. This makes me smart. 😛

    • Ashbringer
    • 9 years ago

    You people act like technology is making everyone stupid, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

    I hear people complain about GPS, and people not memorizing how to maneuver around places. If I’ve never been there, then why would I do it the hard way to get there? Using maps and compass would feel like I need a miracle.

    Also spelling, really? When Ghoti = fish in English, you really care how accurate they can spell words? I use Google to spell check all the time, cause if I don’t then some asshole is going to point it out and explain to me how stupid I am.

    Anyone who knows anything about the evolution of technology knows that it never makes out lives easier. It frees up time, so can focus on other things. Usually, activities that make our lives even harder to balance.

    What use to be a day to get to the market, now only takes 15 minutes. What took hours to write down information, now only takes minutes. What took days to get a letter to someone, now happens instantly. Even cleaning is now quicker, thanks to the array of cleaning products.

    When people have more free time during the day, they usually do more things. A single person today, does the job of what would have taken many more people in the past. The only real problem with this is that sometimes some things should take time, so that people notice more things. I’m more worried that people take things for granted. Never appreciating the different that technology brought us.

    People won’t become stupid, but they can be less ignorant. Sadly, if they’re already stupid then they’ll stay like that. If people wanna know more about the lives of celebrities, then that’s all they’ll know.

    • Voldenuit
    • 9 years ago

    Access to information does not increase intelligence.

    In fact, by offloading the need to memorize and understand information, it is probably making us dumber.

    “Brawndo’s got what plants crave. It’s got electrolytes!” 😛

      • willyolio
      • 9 years ago

      no, it only shifts the intelligence in favour of knowing how to search for more information.

      books did not make people dumber by stopping oral tradition.
      libraries did not make people dumber by getting them to own fewer books at home.

        • cegras
        • 9 years ago

        No it doesn’t. In the end acquiring information via book / the internet is the same, although the speed is different.

        Knowing where to look for and what to look for is infinitely more important. It’s safe to assume a lot of things you learn you will forget, but if you remember the shell, the basic outline of the subject then you can look it up again if you want.

        The internet just makes it more convenient. And half the time the derivations given in wikipedia – nay, maybe 90% of the time – will not satisfy you if you need information for research.

          • ludi
          • 9 years ago

          /[

            • esterhasz
            • 9 years ago

            From Plato’s Phaedros:

            Socrates: I heard, then, that at Naucratis, in Egypt, was one of the ancient gods of that country, the one whose sacred bird is called the ibis, and the name of the god himself was Theuth. He it was who [274d] invented numbers and arithmetic and geometry and astronomy, also draughts and dice, and, most important of all, letters. Now the king of all Egypt at that time was the god Thamus, who lived in the great city of the upper region, which the Greeks call the Egyptian Thebes, and they call the god himself Ammon. To him came Theuth to show his inventions, saying that they ought to be imparted to the other Egyptians. But Thamus asked what use there was in each, and as Theuth enumerated their uses, expressed praise or blame, according as he approved [274e] or disapproved. The story goes that Thamus said many things to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts, which it would take too long to repeat; but when they came to the letters, “This invention, O king,” said Theuth, “will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.” But Thamus replied, “Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another;
            [275a] and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem [275b] to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with, since they are not wise, but only appear wise.

            • cegras
            • 9 years ago

            Getting the information faster does not mean you can process it faster. If I can access something online faster, it doesn’t mean I can read it faster.

            Also, Cyril forgets the fact that the more abstract a subject is, the more you need to be spoon fed by teachers. For example, it’s not impossible to learn math from a textbook, but it is extremely hard. Same for physics.

    • r00t61
    • 9 years ago

    As we used to say at work, “This technology was created by geniuses to be used by idiots.”

    I see users getting dumber, not smarter, as the years go on and the technology gets better.

    Yeah, sure, the users might have to learn the intricacies of the technology they’re using, but critical thinking has evaporated.

    • dragmor
    • 9 years ago

    Has someone been reading Kevin Kelly? §[< http://www.kk.org/<]§ Humans have always incorporated technology into our evolution. Take the simple act of cooking which has basically given the human race a second stomach. At first enabling us to eat things that we couldn't eat raw and then having our own stomachs adjust (via the bacteria in them) to expect cooked foods. In the late 90s there was a lot of talk in university circles about the www becoming the 3rd part of the human brain due to the instant access, later it turned into google being the source, but the concept is the same. Do you remember when you used to ask smart people / experts a question or spend hours looking something up in several different books? Now it takes 5 seconds and you get 100 references. The skill "googlefu" is in refining your search for the information you want. The next 10-50 years will be interesting. I think the baby boomers and GenX will be the first generations that have the resources (mainly money) to purchase working bionics to replace failing body parts (eyes, ears, lungs, etc). I personally wouldn't replace an eye just to make my sight better (heat, infra red, ultra violet, etc), but I would get a replacement if I went blind. The idea of replacing nature is slightly abhorrent to me but I'm sure time and needs will change my views. What I'm really interested in is given a generation or two, how will society react to these augmentations when we are using upgrades as a competitive advantage for our children. When you could say for certain that someone IS better than you (physically and CPU / information interface) just because they had more money for better upgrades. Will we see companies outfitting workers with augmentations while putting them into fixed servitude? Sort of like how the military will pay for your degree if you work x years for them. Will we have society limiting access to information to those with different upgrades? Intel Inside style. But my real worry in all this is that we have already come to far and are to unprepared to avoid a system failure. An EMP pulse that fried all CPUs or a virus that killed / corrupted the internet backbone would be just as devastating to our civilisation as a plague. We are so dependent on technology to build technology and as an information source we couldn't rebuild from scratch before society imploded. If every CPU was fried and every device that used a CPU stopped working it would be decades maybe hundreds of years to get back to where we are now. Wait another 10 to 20 years and we might never regain the knowledge simple because the devices we have today ARE magic to the average user. They have NO IDEA how these devices work or the fundamental technology behind them. Our society needs to start a building a safety mechanism to borrow a scifi term an STC (Standard Template Construction). That is rugged enough to survive and contains the information we need to start again. But I doubt that it is possible given today's short sightedness, Intellectual property and copyright laws, etc. We live in interesting times.

    • cegras
    • 9 years ago

    Access to information does not create a hivemind; a hivemind is the linking of cognitive abilities.

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 9 years ago

    I see a trend the other way. The more people rely on technology the stupider they become. Critical thinking goes down the drain.

      • A_Pickle
      • 9 years ago

      “Stupider” isn’t a word.

        • willyolio
        • 9 years ago

        stupider. no, you’re wrong! The spell checker didn’t give me a red underline!

          • Firestarter
          • 9 years ago

          The computer says so, I rest my case!

      • End User
      • 9 years ago

      You should start a petition to have both electricity and the wheel banned!

      • Bensam123
      • 9 years ago

      Depends on what you use the technology for. It is definitely possible to use it to further critical thinking.

        • A_Pickle
        • 9 years ago

        Agreed. Instant fact-checking exists today… because of technology and the internet. Smartphones give people the ability to instantly fact-check almost anywhere they are — yet somehow the argument goes that technology is making us dumber?

        I wholly disagree. Technology allows more people than ever before to participate in the discussion, and it gives those participants faster access to more information than ever before. It allows us to discuss and to deliberate with literally anyone that has access, with that vast library of information. If that isn’t the best fuel for critical thinking, then I don’t know what is.

        The argument that Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace sap of us of desire for human contact? Bullshit. They expedite real-world human contact. Facebook has made LAN party planning easy as pie. Facebook allows people without cellular phones able to still communicate quickly and effectively.

        So yeah.

    • blastdoor
    • 9 years ago

    I’m totally with you right up to the point of “hive mind.” That might turn out to be correct, but I’m a little skeptical, at least if I understand the term right. A hive mind would imply a collective conscience and a subordination of individual conscience to that collective conscience. I find that a little far fetched from a technical standpoint. It seems to me that latency would have to be very, very low in order for that to work and I think the speed of light would be a limiting factor.

    One other quibble… I don’t think the “our brains are ARM processors” analogy is quite right either, if the point is to suggest that centralized servers will be the POWER or Xeons of that world (to continue the analogy). Brains (human, dolphin, whatever) are amazingly complex and the peformance/watt and performance/cm^3 is untouchable. The only way we will ever develop a computer as complex as a brain is if we genetically engineer a brain that we call a computer. But conventional silicon transistors will never beat organic neurons.

      • FuturePastNow
      • 9 years ago

      l[<(ever go to a restaurant and split a bill and everyone has to pull out their phone to figure out how to divide 85/7?)<]l That's easy, make the tip whatever it needs to be to get a number divisible by 7 (in this case, $20) 😛 (or $13 or $6, but those aren't enough of a tip for 7 people with an $85 bill)

      • ew
      • 9 years ago

      This isn’t a very good argument. I could find dozens of examples of skills that used to be common but aren’t any more because of a technological advance. What would happen if someone cut off the electricity to your house? What if you had to live without your car?

        • Lazier_Said
        • 9 years ago

        And the cost of those cars and elevators is a nation of morbidly obese diabetics who can barely make it up a flight of stairs.

        Not to say we should go back to walking to work every day (in the snow, uphill, both ways) but just because the benefit of a technology outweighs the cost doesn’t make the cost disappear.

        • way2strong
        • 9 years ago

        there’s a big difference between not being able to operate a lantern or ride a bike/horse and having a horrible memory or being unable to do simple cognitive tasks

    • l33t-g4m3r
    • 9 years ago

    Augmented Reality, like Bionic Eye. I was talking to a gamestop guy the other day, and he was telling me that he went to some conference and tried out some of their prototypes. Apparently they are working on a headset combined with a portable system that can charge credit cards. This way they can point at a game on a shelf and pull specs, etc. Sounds neat.
    This stuff could take GPS/social networking/whatever to a whole new level.

      • glynor
      • 9 years ago

      Great entry, Cyril. Thanks!

    • indeego
    • 9 years ago

    I can recall also riding the bus and being the only one with a smartphone (WM Treo, a real POS in many ways.) I remember thinking, this is really going to catch on and people won’t have books on the bus anymore.

    In 2010, easily half the people on my commute buses have smartphones, kindles, and iPads(in particular the iPads are amusing because most people have these awkward cases that takes away from the slick look of them.)

    In 2015, I doubt less than 10% of people will be without these devices.

    I also wonder what will happen to commercial real-estate, the virtual-commuter age is basically here, I have no idea why my employer continues to spend hundreds of thousands on meatspace holding tanks when we could do without quite easilyg{<.<}g

    • Firestarter
    • 9 years ago

    All the information in the universe is pretty useless unless you know how to apply it. Having Wikipedia and all the servers of the world at your fingertips doesn’t help your critical thinking or reasoning, it can only speed it up by closing the distance between you and the information you base your reasoning on. That is, assuming that the information you find is even correct.

    Knowing that you can just Google it doesn’t help your motivation to learn. Soaking up page upon page of information (Wiki syndrome) doesn’t guarantee that you actually learn something, you’ll just as soon forget it.

      • cynan
      • 9 years ago

      I Agree.

      Technology, like every other tool, is only as effective as its appropriateness for the application for which it is used. In many instances it is a poor substitute for attributes such as the ability to think logically; creativity and imagination; motivation/drive/interest, etc

      It’s kind of like handing a thesaurus and dictionary to someone with a limited vocabulary and underdeveloped imagination/creativity and expecting them to generate a decent work of written fiction.

      • dashbarron
      • 9 years ago

      This, and being able to actually apply the knowledge and learn from how other have applied it. Basically learning from history, not making the same mistakes, peace on earth man, etc.

      • tech329
      • 9 years ago

      There is no disagreeing with what you’ve said. However, even with the variability I would much rather have the enhanced opportunities of the net to make the evaluation of the information than not. In that same vein I suspect that this gives rise to the possibility of improving upon our critical thinking skills. The variety of available ideas could almost be said to automatically foster improving this skill.

        • Firestarter
        • 9 years ago

        I agree, but it does require a critical mindset when you’re processing the information, something that is no more prevalent than it used to be I guess.

    • voodootronix
    • 9 years ago

    I actually thought this was a really good little article – and echoes thoughts that I’ve been having for around the last 6 months – coincidentally the same amount of time I’ve had a Droid. In fact I’ve often considered that one of the (many) unique ‘properties’ of the human species is that we seem to have taken control of our own evolution through the medium of technology.

    As you say, settling a drunken debate with a quick Google voice search has moved from a novelty to a norm. Last night I left my smartphone in a taxi. I’ve now recovered it, but the thought of being cut of from the ‘hive’ was almost more distressing than the financial blow of losing a £400 uninsured handset 1/4 of the way through a 2 year contract!

    I’ll be getting some insurance tomorrow.

      • cynan
      • 9 years ago

      replied to wrong post

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 9 years ago

    Smartphones will make people in general smarter just like the wealth of information easily accessible from the internets did – not at all.

    Everyone will just use smartphones 2.0 for facebook 2.0. Welcome to humanity.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 9 years ago

    I’ll agree that an iPhone could be thought of as an extension of your brain, but the same could not be said of my Android phone. This thing is an extension of my ass! -[

      • dpaus
      • 9 years ago

      TMI about what your ass does, buddy!

      • BlackStar
      • 9 years ago

      Eh? Your ass sucks? Ew.

      • Jigar
      • 9 years ago

      So it’s more important…Thanks.

      • 5150
      • 9 years ago

      You’re doing it wrong.

      • BiffStroganoffsky
      • 9 years ago

      Your ass is doing it wrong.

      • Inkling
      • 9 years ago

      So your Android is a rectal prolapse — or, a Hemorrhoid?

        • Captain Ned
        • 9 years ago

        He can have his opinion. I love my original Droid. I also think that Android developers lost their way between 2.1 and 2.2, as I simply cannot stand 2.2. I’ve tried a few times and the longest I’ve gone is a couple of days before I restore the nandroid of 2.1

          • BoBzeBuilder
          • 9 years ago

          Why? I thought 2.2 brings performance improvements + new features. What’s not to like?

            • Captain Ned
            • 9 years ago

            Just don’t like the tweaks to the UI.

    • StuG
    • 9 years ago

    I still have yet to buy a smart phone. In matter of fact, I am still using the least powerful phones possible. Is it a matter of that I don’t like smartphones? No. Its a fact that smartphones can’t last my apparently abuse lifestyle ><

    Make me a durable smartphone, and I will make you my customer.

      • anotherengineer
      • 9 years ago

      Same here. Actually my wife and I share a pay-as-u-go cell phone, 7yr old samsung i believe, most of the time the battery is dead as it sits unused on the kitchen counter top.

      I think these “smart” phones that have games, apps, etc, are for people with ADD that need constant entertaining, and to say my phone has more crap than your phone.

        • Corrado
        • 9 years ago

        GET OFF MY LAWN!

        Actually, I need email on my phone for work purposes. Its got a GPS too, so thats one less device to carry. Its a music and movie player, yet one less device. Essentially, my smart phone combines the utility of 4 or 5 separate devices, and puts them into 1 package. And its ubiquitous in my every day life.

          • Usacomp2k3
          • 9 years ago

          I have no desire to watch movies on that small of a device. I don’t want to be access from work by e-mail (have a work cell phone for emergencies). I rarely use a GPS because I tend to look up where I’m going ahead of time or enjoy trying to find it (shockingly, you learn your way around much better when you’re not just following directions).

            • jss21382
            • 9 years ago

            For that reason I don’t own a GPS

      • mcnabney
      • 9 years ago

      A durable smartphone costs too much, is very bulky, and the most likely customers – businesses- don’t like them.

        • ErebosGR
        • 9 years ago

        guess you’ve never heard of Motorola’s DEFY.
        not bulky, not heavy, not expensive.

          • mcnabney
          • 9 years ago

          I am quite familiar with Defy.
          It has a scratch-resistant screen. All smartphones will likely use the same Corning coatings soon. The actual phone is still just as fragile as any other. When I think of a hardened phone I think of the old Nextel Bumblebee or Verizon’s current Rock or Ravine which can litterally be thrown across the parking lot of dropped into a pool.

    • TheEmrys
    • 9 years ago

    I’m pretty sure RIM should get the lion’s share of the credit, when they started with the BlackBerry in 2002. While Apple took a great idea and made it better, the real innovation was done with the BlackBerry. However, Apple definately gets credit for style. But don’t forget that for 5 years, a BlackBerry was THE must-have device.

      • dpaus
      • 9 years ago

      Uh….., and for seven years before that, the ‘must-have’ device was a Treo/palmPilot.

      And, um, for two months before that, the ‘must-have’ device was the Newton, by… yeah, Apple. 🙂 [actually, the Newton was more often the ‘must-laugh-at’ device]

        • Tamale
        • 9 years ago

        Yeah.. the Treo really was the first well-recognized smartphone

    • ApockofFork
    • 9 years ago

    You make a good point here but I think the one key point that your missing is that having the worlds knowledge at our finger tips doesn’t do us any good if we don’t know that the knowledge is out there. I think in the future its going to be important not to have a vast store of knowledge but rather know what you don’t know really well. Google is useless if you don’t know that the piece of information you need exists or better still what its called.

    If you don’t have that broad knowledge of what you don’t know to draw upon you can spend hours trying to figure out how to acquire that small piece of knowledge. For example a year ago I knew I needed a piece of hardware that had two eyelets that could tighten and pull things together. I knew what it looked like in my head but despite my best descriptions entered into google I couldn’t get it to come up. I learned later that the name of the piece of hardware I needed was a turnbuckle. Unfortunately the fact that I didn’t know the name of the item made the vast stores of human knowledge useless.

    That being said I think its great that knowledge is at everyones finger tips. Its amazing how little you need to know to be able to learn and do anything these days.

      • Corrado
      • 9 years ago

      This. I don’t know HOW often people tell me they can’t find ANYTHING on the subject they’re looking for. An example:

      “I have to do a paper on the pygmy pigeons of northern arctic, i googled and found nothing”
      I take 3 seconds and paste 5 links.
      “OMG HOW DID YOU FIND ALL THAT?!”
      “I Googled for the EXACT phrase you said your paper was on, and those were the first 5 results in Google.”
      “WOW!”

      I’m not sure why, exactly, people fail at Google, but they do. A lot.

      • cynan
      • 9 years ago

      I think this issue – of not being able to find the information your looking for if you don’t know the required nomenclature – will be gradually resolved as search engines become more sophisticated.

      I bet Google, etc, are already working on advanced search options that allow you to describe what you are looking for based on what you know about it (ie, you don’t know it’s name, but you know it’s function, general dimensions, etc). This type of searching is still a little ways off because it will require large a database of cross-referenced general information, rather than merely using logic code to identify strings in databases of automatically cached web pages. However, this is not unlike what Wolfram Alpha is trying to do now.

      I think a good place to start would be some sort of collaboration by a search engine (Google?) and some form of vast general information database (Wikipedia?).

      The advantage to the search engine creating it’s own general information database would be that it could set the criteria of what main parameters are included i for each entry. which would make the whole process more efficient and effective.

      Of course, the impact of technology on the future of the human race always becomes a bit scary when automated processes replace the need/desire to think for one’s self or retain a reasonable amount of memorized information. This trend sort of foreshadows the cliched distopic future society divided into an elite governing few at the forefront of research/technology, and the masses of placated morons:

      Entry: “Need device {dig ice cream} {bring food to mouth}”
      Return: “spoon”

      • l33t-g4m3r
      • 9 years ago

      similar to my argument against the vista search bar. If you don’t know what something is called, you can’t search for it. There needs to be some form of visual directory tree organization.

    • jdaven
    • 9 years ago

    Apple will definitely take its rightful place in history as the pioneers of the current societal shift from isolated localized perceptions and information to a connected world.

    • Prospero424
    • 9 years ago

    “In other words, I think we’re headed toward a future where communication is so accelerated and our thinking abilities are so expanded by technology that humanity ends up with a sort of hive mind. Our personal knowledge might become not unlike cache memory, a mere stepping stone to the multi-terabyte RAID of available knowledge—and getting from one to the other might become nearly as quick. Similarly, our thinking and reasoning power might become comparable to the slow ARM processors in today’s smartphones, which can talk to server farms full of powerful multi-core CPUs over the airwaves. Rather than being assimilated like the Borg, I think we’ll be augmented with the collective pool of human knowledge and the capabilities of our best machines at all times.”

    Sniff… Sniff…

    I smell Charlie Stross 😉

    • odizzido
    • 9 years ago

    I really like the idea of smartphones, but they just aren’t good enough for me yet. They are much larger than a regular phone, and they can’t do enough that I wouldn’t need my laptop. My current solution is to have a smaller regular cell + a netbook.

      • NeelyCam
      • 9 years ago

      I’m mostly with you on this one… I think an “iPhone Mini” would be good – an IPhone that’s about 25% smaller, close to a regular dumbphone.

      I find it exceptionally convenient to be able to do some rudimentary (and slow) web searches with my crappy samsung iphoneclone if I suddenly need to do that on a train/bar/wherever, but I find it a bit too big. I used to have a phone that was the size of a credit card (although a bit thicker), and that was great.

    • dpaus
    • 9 years ago

    l[<"Tomorrow, I think unintended ignorance will be the exception"<]l - Sadly, wilfull ignorance will still be all too common... Cyril, your whole blog post has a "Look, I know this sounds weird, but..." tone to it. Apple, the Borg, hive mind? Nothing far-fetched about that at all.

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