Clearly we all see a lot of value in mobile technology, and those who have heard me speak will probably have heard me talk about McGuire’s law of mobility, namely:
“The value of any product or service increases with its mobility”.
This law explains why we all carry mobile phones around – not because we didn’t have enough to carry already, but because we get value out of mobile communications – the ability to contact, and be contacted from almost anywhere, at any time.
And it’s the anywhere, any-time aspect that is causing us all a crisis – which I have named the crisis of “now”.
These days, people cannot seem to tolerate it if they can’t immediately contact someone. They get annoyed if their text message is not immediately responded to. Diversions to voice-mail, particularly the immediate one which indicates that the phone is switched off, irritate people. The problem isn’t contained to mobile phones – a friend whose organisation uses Instant Messaging internally said that people don’t seem to like it if their chat message isn’t responded to immediately if it says you’re “available”.
I’m guilty too. If for someone reason I can’t reach my wife on her mobile, then rather than accepting some prosaic reason – flat battery, no coverage – I’ll leap to the conclusion that something catastrophic has happened. We seem to have rapidly moved from the “no news is good news” model to a paranoid, always-in-touch society.
Before mobiles were around we used to somehow manage to meet friends at prearranged times – and more importantly we handled it when they failed to show up. I don’t recall being overly concerned that something catastrophic had occurred when this happened – we were used to the normal issues that cropped up.
Whilst I’m grateful for mobile phones having significantly increasing the likelihood of being made aware of issues when they do occur, I wonder if we’re taking it too far. We need to move away from this crisis of “now” and accept that communication – particularly that which relies on technology - is imperfect, and asynchronous communication, like an SMS, should never expect an immediate reply.
A colleague recently quoted George Bernard Shaw:
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Unread email, SMS and voice-mail messages are perhaps the modern embodiment of this sentiment.
In a future blog post I’ll outline how new services like real-time location sharing from your mobile are going to make it even harder for us to handle the situation of someone dropping off the grid.