Are We On The Wrong Side Of The Digital Divide?
by Ernest Lilley
Review by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu Editorial ISBN/ITEM#: 0704ELDD
Date: 01 April 2007
Links: Digital Divide (Wikipedia) / Alcatel / Lucent - Bridging The Digital Divide /
The curse of the early adopter is that you wind up getting used to old technology that works pretty good. Many SF readers work in some sort of IT function, and all of us are used to reading as our main form of information gathering by definition. Combine all that with the high speed internet access we've been getting on our desktops for decades and it's no wonder that we think anyone who doesn't have a desktop computer and at least a cable modem lives on the wrong side of the tracks. But if you think so, you're out of touch with the new reality, honest.
I just got back from the Cellular Telephone and Internet Association (CTIA) show in Orlando held last week, and while phone calls are still king, and may well always be,that phones are the multi-media computers of tomorrow is more and more obvious. For Americans maybe it's the day after tomorrow, but for the rest of the world, tomorrow is already yesterday.
And it's not just the ability to download music onto your phone, or the impending Apple I-Phone, awaited by the industry with all the eagerness of movie extras looking upward at an impending asteroid impact. Video Media works well on the small screen of a cell phone, and has for some time. Today's wireless networks have no trouble handling streaming TV or even movies, and YouTube was made for little screens.
And nobody thinks you're uncool if you have the ultimate bling tone phone, complete with cameras and keypads. Ok, I take that back. Blackberry's and Treo's manage to uncool themselves with their QWERTY (humorous aside here...I couldn't remember how to spell QWERTY for a second) keyboards. Texting doesn't need a keyboard, but if you're over 30 the odds are you're not texting anyway. Just one more indication that you're living on the wrong side of the divide. There really are alternatives to standard keyboards though, and one of the ones that I keep seeing at these shows is Digit Wireless' Fastap technology, which uses raised buttons at the corners of the number (or other) keys to radically expand the number of keys you can put on a keypad. Remarkably, it actually makes finding the different keys easier, since the lowered keys now have borders, and the raised keys are spread apart. Then of course, voice recognition is coming on strong, and you can be sure that future generations won't bother keyboarding if they can just talk.
I'd always hoped that weak voice recognition technology would force us all to speak more clearly, but in the way of automated evolution, where we start off wondering how a machine could do a human's job and wind up realizing that humans just weren't all that good at in the first place, it turns out that advanced VR will let people mumble in slang to their heart's content. We may wind up increasing the number of dialects and accents rather than reducing them as a result. But the orderly world of common tongues is clearly on the old school side of the divide.
Can cellular connectivity provide the kind of bandwidth that internet hungry users want? Oh yes, and it's only getting better. At our isolated secret lair somewhere on the US Eastern seaboard we weren't able to get anything better than dial-up connections for our modems. We tried to get a satellite link, but the region was already at full capacity and we couldn't get added on. So we called up Linksys, who has a Sprint connected WiFi router I'd seen at a previous show and had them send one over for "review." After sixty days of "testing" we'd grown so attached to the high speed access, nearly as quick as DSL that we bought one before sending the test unit back to the PR agency. (See: Linksys WRT54G3G-NA Review)
Right now everyone in Europe (or so the numbers say) has at least one cell phone. Soon, every one around the world will. Yes, really. In some developing countries cellular minutes are a well established currency which can be bought and sold. New keysets and browsers are being developed for more languages. One day very soon the entire world will be connected to the world wide web in a sudden surge that makes the day AOL let down its wall look like an ebb tide at Atlantic City.
Excuse me, but tomorrow is texting me...and I've got to see what it wants.