The Economist of April 12-18th has a 14-paged focus on wireless communication. The future impact on relationships and workspaces is forecasted in several articles.
The main argument is that the mobile technologies are making us nomads, striding as we go about our daily business. Though in one article Paul Saffo from Silicon Valley thinks the term “Nomad” is less fitting, he prefers ”Astronaut” in stead.
An Astronaut must bring what they need, including oxygen, because they cannot rely on their environment to provide it. Astronauts are at the same time defined and limited by their gear and the supplies they carry. This is how the future human should be viewed; carrying with him the essentials that he needs.
Mobiles make stronger ties stronger
The mobile’s impact on the social cohesion of society is another theme. The argument is that the strong ties, or the near relations such as dear friends and family, are getting stronger on the expense of weaker or new ties.
The logic is that as people more easily connects through mediated communication (understood as not-in-the-same-location-communication) makes them less present in their physical location to make new/weak ties stronger.
Another interesting point backing the theory is that we more and more can choose to merge our work-location with our family-location:
“James Katz, a professor at Rutgers University says that the shift, that mobile technology makes possible, amounts to “historical re-integration” of our productive and social spheres. In the hunter-gather, agricultural and pre-industrial artisan eras people did not separate the physical space devoted to work, family and play (…) It was only with the capital-intensive work of the industrial era that a separation of homes and factories became necessary, because workers had to be “co-located” in order to work efficiently. This is also applied to bureaucracies before the digital era. Now, however, the different spheres of life are emerging again.”
The workspace changes
At the same time workplaces are challenged from increasing mobility of the work-force.
At the Googlecomplex in San Francisco the workers only carry with them their blackberry, leaving laptop, papers and -for some- even the physical office for good. If they should be in need of such, when they are at the complex, an open-for-every-body computer has Internet connection and the Google-workers can open documents from on-line personal archives and print (if needed!) right there.
In the Googlecomplex there is a volleyball game going on, there is a laundry service on site, and a fleet of Google-community shuttles extends the workspace throughout the entire San Francisco Bay Area.
This challenges the architecture of the modern work place. Stata Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) [link to flickr pictures] created by Frank Gehry is an example of such a modern work place. It is a new kind of hybrid space: Cafés and lounges are interspersed between work desks and whiteboards.
The estimated number of mobile phone users worldwide is 3.25 billion, while Internet users (dial-up and broadband) are estimated to be 1.25 billion users. Since 1996 the growth of Internet users has been linear, while the growth of mobile-users has experienced an exponential rise until today. Source: International Telecommunications Union.