Art & Design Magazine

Happy Birthday to Me and the Telephone

By Realizingresonance @RealizResonance

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I was born on March 10th, 1976, making me 35 years old today. In terms of the big picture this is a very small amount of time, but when it comes to the evolution of human society and culture by the force of technological change my lifetime represents a considerable span. I discovered a couple of days ago that my birthday was the centennial of the first telephone call between Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson. As fate would have it I have been employed for more than a decade now by a descendent of the Bell Telephone Company within the wireless business. I have watched a cutting edge industry transform into the purveyors of products and services that now resemble something out a science fiction tale, only cooler. Not only are the wireless telephony technologies of 2011 significantly evolved from the invention of the first telephone in 1876, they are significantly evolved from the first cordless rotary dial phones that were marketed in 1976. Now we have touch screen Smartphones and Tablet PCs. The evolution of communications technology is accelerating.

Wireless technologies are also evolving our culture and social habits. The contemporary Italian Philosopher of Technology Luciano Floridi suggests that we are in the midst a revolution in human awareness representing a paradigm shift in the types of beings we see ourselves as. This is the fourth revolution of this nature, according to Floridi. From our ancient and classical perspective of special creatures of creation with mythical origins, we shifted to seeing our existence as much less special when we discovered that the Earth was no the center of the Solar System with the Copernican Revolution. The Darwinian Revolution caused us to reevaluate the human identity in a context firmly rooted in biological determinism and the animal kingdom. The Freudian Revolution cast into doubt our classical understanding of human consciousness and free will, with the recognition that cognitive processes below our awareness and control had large role in determining our behavior. Floridi argues that the current Information Revolution is altering our view once again and that we are coming to see ourselves as information exchanging entities. For example, our identities our represented online within social networking sites by archives of sense data and informational content. Our interests, activities, and living relations define who we are not only to the outside world, but more and more to ourselves. I think Floridi is really onto something here. That means the business I work for is more than just a new industry, it is an institutional framework supporting a revolution in human consciousness.

With the emergence of 4G wireless technologies just on the horizon the scope of this new revolution has hardly just begun. Our modes of living are adapting quicker and quicker to an immersive commutations and media environment that adds a layer of hyper-reality to our daily experience. We have an auditory and visual window connecting us to this new dimension, with our living relations in real time, and most cherished intellectual and sense data available in constantly growing digital archives. All in our pockets. In the coming years we will see a proliferation of device to device networks, with Smartphones communicating with the environment around us via embedded sensors in an even deeper immersion into a wireless ecology. Telecommunications expert Scott Snyder (43-44) has pointed out several prospects for “Killer Applications” using 4G technology, given its widespread adoption. These not only include the obvious enhancements to video gaming technology, but also location aware concierge services and decision support, as well as immersive touring and interactive education. Virtual healthcare, emergency services coordination and personal security applications also have the prospect of taking off with 4G. Remote sensing, monitoring, and control of equipment and appliances will create smarter homes, and polling and prediction markets will create smarter communities. It is likely the most astounding changes that will take place are not even being imagined yet.

When President Rutherford B. Hayes saw the telephone demonstrated in 1876 he said to Bell, “That’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?” (“Imagining the Internet”) I wonder what Hayes would say if he could have experienced the White House in 2011, with President Barak Obama being the first US President to wield a Smartphone. This scenario was absolutely unfathomable to Hayes. Will the communications technologies of 2076 seem just as unfathomable from today’s perspective?

Jared Roy Endicott

Happy Birthday to Me and the Telephone
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Works Cited and Recommended Reading:

Snyder, Scott. The New World of Wireless: How to Compete in the 4G Revolution.. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing, 2010. Print.

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