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April 1, 2009

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Our Phones, Ourselves

I recently had one of those moments where a few disparate thoughts click into place, and I was left with an insight that seems obvious in retrospect. (Trouble is, you never know when those moments actually are obvious, and have occurred to everybody except you ages ago. Forgive me if this is one of those.)

It starts with the mobile “phone,” or whatever you want to call it. First, as has been widely remarked, half the world has one. Adoption rates exceed 100 percent in countries from Romania to New Zealand. Here in the US, it’s not hard to imagine a near future where smartphones with touchscreens are as ubiquitous as the Nokia bricks of yesteryear.

Here’s what strikes me about mobile phones: they correlate pretty well with actual people. To a degree unmatched by a computer and certainly by a landline, a cell phone is a personal device. Every member of a family is likely to have one. Not all that many people carry more than one. Between phone number portability and Google Voice, you can almost imagine a person’s phone number becoming an identifier almost as reliable as a Social Security number, certainly more stable than, say, a driver’s license ID.

This got me thinking about biometrics. The notion of your mobile phone touchscreen reading your fingerprint isn’t exactly new, and these devices are almost made for voice recognition, right? The point is, verifying identity with a mobile device seems like it should be easier and more accurate than it has typically been throughout the digital transition, yes?

We’re already paying for things with our cell phones. You can see the vast upsides to voting via cell phone. I’m already jonesing for my cell phone to interface with all my other electronic devices: “Desktop and air conditioner, Matt’s on his way home. Work it.”

The upshot of all this is that we’re hurtling towards a moment when your mobile telecommunications device is entangled with your identity in all sorts of curious ways. What does this mean? What does it mean to be that closely enmeshed with a computer?

And how does that enmeshment implicate our relationships with the telecom industry? It’s already squicky enough that I rely on T-Mobile for phone service. I am not at this moment OK with signing on to T-Mobile’s Identity™ service.

Perhaps this epiphany occurred much earlier to those of you with iPhones, but it felt novel enough to me to remark upon it. At any rate, “mobile phone” is not cutting it any more. If this thing really is becoming the prime representative of our digital identity, it needs a more accurate rebranding. Nominations?

Posted April 1, 2009 at 7:25 | Comments (7) | Permasnark
File under: Technosnark


Ooh. I like this. I like this a lot.

The first thing that occurred to me...



And how does that enmeshment implicate our relationships with the telecom industry? It’s already squicky enough that I rely on T-Mobile for phone service. I am not at this moment OK with signing on to T-Mobile’s Identity™ service.

You know, I was thinking about this just the other day; I saw a commercial for a Verizon Hub, which is a kind of low-powered computer/high-powered smartphone that you plug in to your high-speed internet connection. The tag line was something like "turn your home into a communications center," and I realized that that's what phones are now - communication centers.

As a concept, it leverages the virtues of a stationary phone; a hard line, with more sophisticated hardware and a bigger interface than you could carry around with you. And it doesn't use a telephone or cellular signal! It uses VOIP telephony.

We could see a boom in Phone/Communication PCs like the not-quite materialized boom in media center PCs, the idea being that just as our computers have become centers for our digital music, movies, pictures, etc., they'll increasingly become centers for our communication in toto. They already handle our internet and email. You'll see more and more sophisticated pairing mechanisms between phones and personal computers, even as phones become more sophisticated personal computers in their own right. The iPhone in this case is only a harbinger of what's coming.

You know, I posted on the 2019 thread a while back about a vision of personal computing where all portable computing devices were just called "machines" and stationary hubs were called "stations." It's a little sci-fi, but I actually still really like that terminology -- so much so that I use it in conversation. "This is a nice machine."

I've been surprised to realize how little I plug my iPhone into my computer. I can't remember the last time I did. iTunes on the PC is, indeed, a much better interface for downloading apps, etc., than the App Store on the iPhone -- BUT the convenience of doing it all on-the-go outweighs that difference easily.

Talk about growing attachment to these objects, though: I thought I'd lost my phone in East Lansing for about six hours, and it was AWFUL. Wrenching. A much deeper sense of loss (and disconnection) than previous phones. Something is changing.

(P.S. Turns out it was wedged into a weird crevice in my car.)

Geez ... "Daemon." Perfect. I want to buy that device.

Along those lines, you know what I think of when I see videos of people holding up the T-Mobile G1 inside a building demoing Google Street View in Compass mode? (That's fairly specific, so probably not.)


Great word, doesn't really get at the identity thing.

To your story, Robin, I dropped my BlackBerry in a puddle one night last winter, and the whole thing short-circuited. I couldn't go 24 hours without it. I went on Craigslist and bought a used replacement the next day.

Do you sync contacts, music, movies, pictures, whatever onto your phone? Or do you do it once and never again? Or through little helper apps that autosync them for you through the power of the internets?

Nope, I only sync w/ the cloud. Email is Gmail, contacts are Google Contacts, etc. So both my PC and my iPhone are portals to the same place.

If I used my iPhone as an iPod I would sync it more often. ALTHOUGH! More of my music consumption is shifting to Pandora! And how much longer 'til you can store all of your iTunes tracks on Apple's servers, too?

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