Monday, March 13, 2006

Ubiquitous WiFi will transform society

Gosh, I'm looking forward to this. The BBC says that WiFi will change the way we interact and live. I agree. And at that point, my research will no longer be a novelty, but a huge asset in a world that will have come to terms with the relationship between offline and digital identity. From the article:

Dr Jo Twist, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said once the net was ubiquitous like power and water, it had the potential to be "transformative".

The divide that separates people from their online lives will utterly disappear. Instead of leaving behind all those net-based friends and activities when you walk out of your front door, you will be able to take them with you.

The buddies you have on instant message networks, friends and family on e-mail, your eBay auctions, your avatars in online games, the TV shows you have stored on disk, your digital pictures, your blog - everything will be just a click away.

Jo also talks empowerment, and the price of access - in both financial and privacy terms. Certainly the actual cost of access is a mega stumbling block. Removing the commoditisation of WiFi (i.e., T-Mobile's extortionate "HotSpots") would allow the power of connectivity to empower users who otherwise would not have such an outlet.

added 14 March: MIT Tech Review also has an interesting take on "Social Machines".

Without much hoopla, many conference centers and university and corporate campuses--even entire metropolises, in the case of Philadelphia and a few other cities--are being turned into giant Wi-Fi hot spots. Trains, planes, airports, and libraries are also installing wireless networks to serve customers carrying wireless gadgets. As a result, many businesspeople, students, and Starbucks addicts now expect cheap, easy access to the Internet as a matter of course. Losing it can feel like being stranded.
After a decade of hype about "mobility," personal computing has finally and irreversibly cut its bonds to the desktop and has moved into devices we can carry everywhere. We're using this newly portable computing power to connect with others in ways no one predicted--and we won't be easily parted from our new tools.

On the other hand, I went to a Social Psychology conference last year and was the only person with a laptop, and received some nasty looks from people around me as I attempted to work on my computer through sessions.

There's a real danger of pluralistic ignorance, assuming that everyone is doing what you're doing because if you only surround yourself with one type of person, you'll only know what that group is doing.

Ubiquitous connectivity is a way off, but for us technologists, it's extremely important.


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