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Mobile computing, Opinion

How smartphones have changed us forever 1

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Peter Thompson

As a responsible, hard working employee you either own or are provided with a smartphone that has all the functionality required to keep you in contact with your work, customers, suppliers and colleagues. And, it’s cool to have the latest Samsung S3 or Apple iPhone, place it on the table at meetings or make updates as you are mobile, isn’t it? It’s a sign to others of being important or up-to-date.  In some cases, it’s just expected by everyone you know. Well that simple Internet-connected mini computer has meant that we are always online. More and more companies provide their employee with expensive handsets and fast data connections which is sometimes represented as a company benefit, but in return employers expect that the employees of the company will be available anytime. Naturally, it’s not documented in contract form, but it’s one of the unwritten expectations of modern working practises.

If you work in a company that has genuine opportunity or you are someone with responsibility or entrepreneurial spirit, then you probably have a demanding job. Our careers take vast amounts of mental capacity and an ever increasing share of our available time. With the explosion of smartphones which have effectively now become mobile computers, we have constant real-time access to emails and messages. If you work with global organisations, the pressure to be constantly accessible is absolutely expected.

A quick background – it started with the mobile phone

The first step of being semi-connected was of course the mobile phone. Then came SMS messaging. Mobile phones beeped or flashed as a new message arrived. The interesting thing about messaging is that it was perceived as not being an interruption in comparison to a phone call that needs to be answered. A message supposedly was something that can be addressed at a later time or “for your information” type communication. But in most cases, when we received a message we felt obliged to read it and we often responded. And if your phone was linked to a pager or alarm system, or your bank account, the amount of messages received grew rapidly. Then came the Internet and email. With email, you needed to have a computer, go to the computer, turn on the computer, open your email, read and reply. It was not as demanding as today’s mobile computing. To do that in the middle of the night was quite an effort for most of us.

The mobile phone/computer has taken over

With the growth in the mobile phone becoming a mini personal computer, our cool and fancy device can function as a personal communication center for SMS messaging, email, social networking, landline and Internet telephone, document reader, video conferencing camera, voice recorder, meeting maker and an ever growing list of functionality. With configurable rings, lights and notifications and simple access to everyone and everything from the click of a button, it’s completely normal to be continuously connected to your work life.

The increase in software as a service (SaaS) applications has meant that transparency of work has grown immensely. It means there is potentially much more to read, process and feedback. So, in the middle of the night, it’s possible to receive an email that has a link to a major piece of work and before you know it, you are reading the content and by the time you have finished reading it, your mind is full of information, questions and potential feedback. In some cases, you respond via the smartphone which has poor typing capability for larger documents or emails. And after all that, how are you supposed to return to sleep, especially if it’s bad news which is a common feature of day-to-day work life.  And this can happen day in and day out.

Connected whilst on vacation

When someone at the office used to go on vacation, it meant that the person was unreachable for the duration of their vacation. The notion of that today seems almost unimaginable for both employee and employer. Sending emails, making phone calls and sending text messages almost seems like a perfectly normal thing to someone on vacation. We at least expect that they will regularly check their work email and reply or act where necessary. With 3G and fairly widespread wireless Internet access, even the best vacation can be inundated with work. Is it unusual to check your smartphone or a tablet whilst taking the quad chair up a ski mountain or whilst you lie on a sunbed in some exotic summer resort? The answer is of course no.

We are changed forever

As humans, we like to feel important. We like to feel wanted. Receiving constant updates, requests and feedback simply fuels that need and the smartphone has become the facilitator. Life as it once was has changed forever. And it all happened in the space of a few years.

♦ End

About Peter Thompson

Peter Thompson
Peter Thompson founded GCOMM in 1996. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering/Information Systems from Griffith University and his MBA from Nyenrode Business Universiteit in Holland. He believes in building great teams of people, both in business and socially.
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  • Steve Cannard

    Yes it has all changed – but what is the answer to this? Managing your time (and privacy for what it’s worth) is something that most people think they do well – but seldom as well as they think. I went overseas last year and managed to find a destination where getting connected was really hard – and it was fantastic! How often do people really turn off from being connected these days? Not as much as we might think!

    We humans are a pretty adaptable lot, but life in the western world has changed because of mobile computing and the future is not all that hard to see. 24 hour presence and availability to friends family, acquaintance – and work.. This is going to be the source of some amazing opportunity – and for stress and grief. I am sure there will be an app developed to help us deal with it all :-).