Internet in your Pocket
Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
26 February, 2018
Fecha de publicación original: 14 septiembre, 1999
Everyone stretches their legs according to the length of their coverlet
It wasn’t on any of the gurus’ agendas. But, almost overnight cell phones are changing the whole network scenario and are threatening to do away with some of the truisms forged by the heat of change in recent years. And it is not just because the number of cell phones is increasing all over the world, surpassing the number of landlines phones in some countries. The minute casing of a cell phone carries within it the seeds of the Net and will make it easy to put the Internet into the pockets of each and every user, curing them, if they suffered from the malaise, of their digital illiteracy without the need for traumas or shock treatment.
The fall of this bastion will not be the only one to dent some of the most respected predictions of the last few years. While it is estimated that the Internet will reach the 500 million inhabitant mark by the year 2002, by that time there will be more than a thousand million cell phones, the vast majority of them with access to the Net and a multitude of digital services. What type of accounting do we need to use to explain this marriage between cell phones and the Internet and calculate its impact?
The number of cell phones will surpass the number of landlines without fail in almost all European countries over the next three years. In Spain this will happen by the beginning of next year, which means more than 19 million cell phones in circulation (isn’t it amazing to think of all those people out there armed with a gadget of this kind when not one of them has passed a psycho-technical exam?). By the end of 1999, there will be more than 450 million cell phone users in Europe and more than 600 million the following year. The large majority of these people, especially private individuals, neither have, nor envisage having any Internet connection in the medium term for a multiplicity of reasons. In fact, Europe has often been “blamed” for lagging behind the USA in using and taking advantage of a networked society. However, now all those cell phone users will become habitual users of the Internet almost without their realising it. Very few people imagined that this would be one of the more spectacular spin-offs of GSM, the cell phone technology that began in Europe just five years ago after a long and arduous gestation period.
While a large proportion of analysts maintained that the progress of the Internet depended on digital literacy, and by that they meant an advanced knowledge of all the unnatural complexities and workings of the computer, technology has once again turned the tables and redirected the necessary apprenticeship for being a citizen in the Information Society towards the cell phone manual. Receiving e-mail, consulting the Web and accessing hundreds of other services will now depend on a simple combination of keys and, in no time at all, on voice commands. The Internet encapsulated in a powerful remote control without the intimidating shadow of the TV or the computer. The tendency towards the cell phone becoming one of the pivotal elements of Net society is similar all over the world except, for the moment anyway, in the US because of its highly developed landline network and competing cell phone systems in place which make its development difficult.
Where, then, is the cell phone leading us? A good question. We all have ideas on its advantages and disadvantages, as well as the love/hate feelings inspired by this little gadget. But there will be very little unaffected by it, from work to leisure, through a multitude of aspects that we can’t even imagine yet which might become part and parcel of exchange and interaction via the Net, and consequently, the cell phone too. A few weeks ago, I went to London to visit my son and became exposed to what is in store for us. Lautaro and his friends organise their lives by cell phone in an amazingly nonchalant and casual way. None of them are fascinated by “classical” computers or have e-mail accounts (“That’s such a drag you have to find to a computer to get your messages”). There is nothing weird about them, they just prefer the other options that the digital planet affords. They have surfed the Net at University, but without the digital fidelity normally attributed to their age group (under 24s).
One thing for sure though, they hit the streets with trousers on only because they have pockets in which to keep their cell phones, otherwise they might not even realise they didn’t have clothes on. Their telephone numbers converted into e-mail addresses (firstname.lastname@example.org), reach out to any part of the planet from which answers bounce back onto the minute screens of their telephones. Cell phone message services are their favourite chats. They organise parties, date, talk about movies and pass on data fundamental for survival in the urban jungle, etc., all at the lightning speed of Billy the Kid, the only difference being that their Colts are now Nokia. Nobody has taught them about the Information Society, but they carry the Internet around with them as though it were the most natural thing in the world. What is more, if you ask them what they are doing on the Internet they say that they don’t do anything because sitting in front of a computer all day is boring. Through the cell phone, the Net is becoming as invisible as an old piece of furniture.
What will the repercussions of the cell phone+Internet+intelligent networks be in general, and in developing countries in particular? The most obvious answer is that there is no clear answer. But, we can guess that their impact will be quite different from traditional analyses about the social conditions for access to technology and the fatalistic idea that poor analogue beings have no choice but to accept being poor digital beings. The versatility of the cell phone is at an embryonic stage as yet. Although telephone operator language defines them as terminals, cell phones will really be vehicular: they will allow for the capture, storage, modification and retransmission of information wherever one wants, either TV, computer, personal assistant or any other domestic appliance connected to the Net. The “competitive” advantage of citizens in the Information Society will lie, as we have said many times before, in the ability to create human networks through the management of knowledge and information. And constant simplification of technological equipment is leaving them with fewer and fewer excuses to face up to the obvious future that lies ahead of them.
Just in case, my cellular phone number is +34.609.31.90.92.
Translation: Bridget King