Watching hundreds of middle- and lower-income citizens of greater Chicago while in town for INTX earlier in this month — often riding the ‘L’ train in and around the Windy City — I was pointed to a wonderful example of technology giving the greater mass of people greater power, and in turn, perhaps even greater government (among many benefits).
The source of my interest? The people I saw on the train.
While on the ‘L,’ I snapped a photo of a pair of the 20 or so commuters in that end of the car that evening (representing, I’m guessing, a lot of demographic categories), and everyone was again viewing his or her handheld device, all typically enraptured via cell technology.
The amazing thing about this “use” photo is that the scene might as well be an airport, a train station, a hotel lounge or a school parking lot. It doesn’t matter — wherever people congregate these days, they are congregating almost always first and foremost with their devices. And that says nothing about when they are alone or in small groups.
In addition, just this past week, during a local Monterey County, Calif., TV newscast about how attached people are to their smartphones, these five consumer survey messages were a core part of the segment:
1.) I would feel uncomfortable without constant to information through my smartphone.
2.) I would be annoyed if I could not look information up on my phone when I want to.
3.) Being able to get the news on my smartphone would make me nervous.
4.) Running out of battery would scare me.
5.) If I did not have my smartphone with me, I would feel anxious because I could not instantly communicate with my family and friends.
The amazing thing about the local news feature was the level of passion that the questions and data represented. The last bullet point is the most telling to the point of this article: “If I Did Not Have My Smartphone With Me, I Would Feel Anxious Because I Could Not Instantly Communicate With My Family and Friends.”
Indeed, perhaps a measure of the smartphone’s power is how much people miss their device when it is gone.
WHY PHONE POWER? THE THREE 'Es'
The reason why people universally reach for their smartphones is because the devices give them a very unique and very attractive power.
That power comes by way of: 1) escape, in the form of entertainment; 2) engagement, in the form of news; and 3) enlightenment, in the form of additional information. And those are just the most obvious, top-level content offerings.
As such, these “three E’s” afford smartphone users a tiny bit more power over their lives.
They can chose to be better organized, enthralled, frightened, educated — you name the emotion or state of mind offered by video. Today’s handhelds are getting closer and closer to that on-demand pure offering.
And that capability is incredibly addictive, which means it will grow and grow. That growth has also to do with the perception that such services and products are generally positive for society.
Even if there was nothing else to support the growth trend of handheld mobile devices connected to content everywhere (thus, even without technology improvements, for example), this phone power in the form of amazing live “push” and vast VOD “pull” type content would signal clear, remarkable growth of the mobile and Internet-connected silos (even more so than we are seeing today).
That points to wise telecommunications investments.
FINALLY, WHY DEMOCRACY?
If those gathering that information and building that entertainment do it well, people who seek answers and perspective will get really good versions of those things.
And good information leads to better decisions. Plus, in a democracy, that means folks will make better electoral decisions, which should mean better results. Politicians who “get it” when it comes to the power of mobile and the power of the Internet are much closer to success.
So, next time you are in one of these public gathering spots, don’t just think of everyone with their nose in a small screen as somehow troubling or disengaging from humanity.
Rather, think of that “game of phones” as a better, more frequent and more ubiquitous opportunity to provide people with more powerful content — content that makes the quality of their lives better! That, in turn, makes each user, individually, more powerful! (And voting is just the beginning: What about ideas for new businesses, answers to extreme technical and scientific challenges or solutions to social concerns?)
In addition, as more and more folks learn how to really use their phone devices (all the applications, calendars that sync, video and photo services, emails, etc.), smartphone use will mushroom further.
Lest anyone doubt this obvious growth and improvement trend ahead: Plain and simple, phone power proliferates!
Jimmy Schaeffler is a telecom/media author and chairman and CSO of the Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.-based streaming/broadband, broadcast and pay TV/video consultancy, The Carmel Group.
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