Mobile, Mobilis, Moveō: The Future of Mobility
Over the last month I’ve attended a number of 2010 predictions events (first Deloitte’s 2010 Technology event, next the 2010 Consumerology report and most recently MobileMonday Toronto’s ‘Thoughts/Predictions of the wireless industry for 2010’ on February 1st, 2010 at MaRS Auditorium).
At the MobileMonday event, attendees were given a glimpse into the future of the wireless industry. Among the many predictions attendees were told that: (1) Wireless technologies are becoming increasingly commoditized, that is “[t]he act of making a process, good or service easy to obtain by making it as uniform, plentiful and affordable as possible.” ; (2) Wireless is going younger; (3) Mobile Devices will increasingly be used as payment devices; (4) Wireless will replace fixed broadband; (5) Business Apps are still in the early stages; (6) Mobile Storefronts still have a long way to go, and that (7) there are serious security risks that need to be addressed with respect to cheep and effective Cloud Computing. Challenges for the industry were raised: For example, given that ‘wireless is going younger’, one panelist reminded attendees that they will have to monetize younger customers who do not have credit cards and who are less inclined to sign contracts. Another issue he raised concerned the role of the telco faced with technologies like the iTouch that operates on Wi-Fi networks. Later on he echoed this theme when talking about the role of the telco in an iTunes world.
While these events were interesting, at the end of each I was left wanting more. Or at least, wanting to compare all the predictions and look for a broader, or more comprehensive, trajectory. Amidst all the talk of ‘mobile technologies’ I kept asking myself “what is it about ‘mobility’ that fascinates consumers? Why are we – at the outset of the new century – so keen on being tethered to ‘mobile’ devices that bind us together in a wireless network?” If questions such as these were combined with the types of predictions usually offered a whole host of new predictive possibilities might arise.
Let’s think about ‘mobility’. Subtract all the contemporary associations that flood into your mind (i.e. ‘Bell Mobility’, ‘WIND Mobile’, ‘Virgin Mobile’, ‘Mobile Phone’, ‘Mobile Banking’ etc…). All we’re left with is the term: ‘mobile’. The term “mobile” is an adjective designating “the state of being in motion“. Now we’ve arrived at a concept that might lead somewhere other than the usual ‘vanilla ice cream’ analysis of technology.
The term “mobile” derives from the Latin term “mobilis“. “Mobilis“, a helpful etymology dictionary informs us, designates “being (1) easy to move, movable, loose, not firm; (2) [figuratively] pliable, pliant, flexible, susceptible, nimble, quick, fleet; (3) changeable, inconstant, fickle.” (As one proverb puts it: Tempus it et tamquam mobilis aura volat (Time goes and like a moving breeze it flies.)
But “Mobilis” derives from “Movere” the present active infinitive of “moveō“. Something strange emerges here. In contrast to all the positive meanings of “Mobilis” (easy to move, movable, flexible, nimble, quick, fleet, changeable), “Moveo” seems to indicate a certain violence. An etymology dictionary suggests that “moveō” means to “move, stir, set in motion, disturb, shake, or remove”; “to arouse, excite, promote, produce”; “begin, commence, undertake”; “excite, inspire”; “trouble, concern, torment (someone)”; “exert, exercise”.
Now let back in to your mind all the contempoary associations with the term ‘mobile’ you subtracted earlier. What is it about the present that is so conducive to the ‘mobile (smart)phone’? What is it about this specific ‘mobile’ tool that makes it such a good fit with contemporary individuals and the worldview of those individuals?
Well, the mobile phone allows our voice (and increasingly faces) to be set in motion. It allows us to create new types of flexible work environments. It allows us to live a more fragmented, easily changeable life. These are all usually taken to be assets in a post-industrial environment. It makes sense, in this context, that individuals are drawn to a device that fits so well within post-industrial societies. From this point of view, of the ‘mobile-as-mobilis’, the destiny of mobility lies in the ability for the body to be at any point on earth instantaneously. The end-point of mobility – one we will likely never live to witness – is not simply some 5G smart device, but the creation of a device that allows for the body to be transmitted at the instantaneous speed one’s voice travels at the present time.
But earlier we traced the term ‘mobile’ back futher – to its curious root “moveō“, did we not? Recall that “Moveō” suggests that our contemporary will-to-mobility is representative of some disturbance, of being stirred and set in motion, of being aroused and excited, of being troubled, concerned and/or tormented. Here, the smiles on the Rogers ads that litter our subways – promising to be the ‘ultimate communicator’ – give way to something quite troubling.
‘Mobile-as-moveō‘ raises serious questions: why do we want to set our voices (and increasingly videos/images of our faces and bodies) in motion? Why do we aspire to work in flexible work environments? Why do we yearn to live a more fragmented and easily changeable life?
What if the traits of modern ‘mobile’ life, which we think of as virtues (i.e. ease of movement, flexibility, nimbleness, quickness, fleetness, changeability) are not evocative of the progressiveness of the New (information) Economy, but rather the regressive symptoms of a way of life that leaves us endlessly disturbed, strirred, aroused, excited and tormented?
The end point of mobility-as-moveō – one we will likely never live to witness – is the creation of some device that transformes life into something like a nauseating waltz without end: imagine a body that gyrates and pulsates, ascends and descends, in the same way that real-time graphs of the financial stock exchanges do. But without relief: for while the New York Stock Exchange ends, the Tokyo Stock Exchange rages. From a scandalously brief analysis of the term ‘mobility’, we glean the nightmare that could result from singing its praises too highly.
So, what I’ve tried to do in this post is not merely present some doom and gloom scenario. Rather, I want to suggest that predictions can, and ought to, go deeper than they currently do. As was suggested years ago by Martin Heidegger: “The essence of technology is nothing technological”. The individual, or company, that figures out the essence of ‘mobility’, will be in a far greater position than their competitors to glean what lies on the horizon. For example, in addition to asking the question of what format will win out (VHS or BETA, 3D format A or 3D format B) it would be wise to ask ‘what is behind the drive toward home video’; ‘what is driving us toward 3D video’?
Furthermore, and MOST importantly, these types of questions allow individuals the ability to have a clear sense of, and ability to shape, their future.