What’s different when everyone is “always on”?

Siehe auch den deutschsprachigen Artikel zum Thema.

While I’m writing this blog, I’m walking through the Parisian airport Charles de Gaulle, from Terminal 2F to Terminal 2D. It could become one of those “Oh, how wonderful it is that the iPhone (or more generally, mobile technology) liberates you from your surroundings” blog entries. But it’s not true. To a certain extent, it can’t be true at all: Three sentences ago I walked by Gate 60 as I was concentrating too hard on this text. As far as that goes, certain situations simply demand a certain level of concentration.

At the same time, the technology is still nowhere near as advanced as it could be. While I await my departure, I could go on the web with my phone and my laptop, but in actual fact, I have already seated myself in a WLAN lounge and purchased access to the web for 10 Euros. But during the flight, access to the web is no longer available. My activity is controlled – not by me, but by the situation. So now I’m writing the blog entry and will finish the book later. I would have actually rather done the opposite, but it just doesn’t work.

I’m not writing this article to call for “omnipresent web-access”. And there are enough people who are happy when they can leave their mobile phone off and haven’t any web access, which means they don’t have to use either one of them. That’s completely ok.

But what I think is interesting is the following question:

“What is going to happen when you are – always and everywhere – online?”

We aren’t really that far from this right now; with the iPhone, I could, for instance, read my e-mail everywhere I wish, even in foreign countries. Still, as mentioned earlier, situation still has great influence on your web activity.

For example, the speed of your web access depends on the situation:

  • At home and in the office, web access is racetrack fast.
  • On the road, it’s undependable, somewhere between non-existent, terribly slow, and acceptably fast.
  • Abroad, it’s unbelievably expensive (.19 Euro per 100 KB) and slow.

And situation has great influence on your working possibilities:

  • Even those who wish to cannot work productively while standing in a bus
  • While walking, you can really only “play around” with a telephone. This may be enough to read and write e-mails. But if you don’t watch out, you’ll pass your gate.

What would need to happen: The situation in which everyone is always “on”

If you can imagine what would happen if all of these problems no longer existed:

  • Fast internet-access everywhere: Everyone has permanent broadband access with at least 400 KB downstream and can do everything from using computer applicatioins to watching films, and all that without limitations on the amount of downloaded data.
  • High-quality, integrated mobile technology: There would have to be a possibility – of whatever fashion – to work away from home and office, whether sitting, standing, walking, or lying, just as though one were at a table with a monitor and keyboard. I know that at the moment this description sounds more like a utopia than a possibility. But that doesn’t need to be explained further at this point.

Another thing I don’t really care to deal with right now is the fact that a few readers are doing nothing at all to make this a reality. In my judgment, it is not a question of “if”, but rather of “when” and “to what extent” that this situation will be upon us. But this is, as I say, going to be put off for another day.

What’s going to happen when everyone is “always on”?

In such a situation, everyone who wishes to can go online and work as he or she likes. Work itself will no longer be so dependent on time and space (with the exception of personal contact) nor anywhere near so dependent on the situation.

As a matter of fact, I haven’t advanced any deeper analyses regarding what would happen; I am merely offering a couple of thoughts. I would be happy to see comments and discussion about the following topics:

  • Internet-use is increasing enormously.
  • More electronic communication: The intensity of the use of electronic communication is increasing.
  • More efficient communication: New forms of communication are developing, forms which today are not possible through the high amount of offline time in our lives. A good example of this is Google Wave, which at the end of the day can only really be fun online.
  • Rising pressure to be online: The acceptance for “wanting to be offline” will decrease (against the wishes of many people).
  • Smaller private sphere: The publishing of all possible and impossible private information will become more normal. And that, which Gerrit Eicker today already is describing: “Out of the blue, private information (i.e. photographs) of me taken by others (without any intended harm) are published, photographs that I would rather not see published.”
  • Lasting concentration on one topic will continue to sink: People will be ever more volatile and constantly distracted by “information streams” of all possible kinds. I’m actually scared of what Google Wave will do to people’s ability to concentrate.
  • People will drown ever more in a sea of e-mail.
  • It will become more difficult, pressing e-mails to differentiate from important ones.

I could probably think of numerous other things. But I just wanted to give voice to some of my thoughts and see what others think of them. What do you think? Is there research about this topic? Who has further information and links[?]

I am really looking forward to a discussion and further commentary. 🙂

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