The 'anywhere computing' era dawns

Don't look now, but the 'mobile computing' idea is suddenly obsolete. We hardly knew ye.

In the beginning, there were computers.

They were huge, monstrously expensive, owned only by governments and giant corporations and imprisoned in special-purpose rooms. If you were an ordinary Joe, you couldn't get anywhere near one.

Human ingenuity and Moore's Law miniaturized computers and made them cheaper, small and cheap enough for ordinary people to have them in offices and homes.

Soon thereafter, the "portable" computer was born. It was like a regular computer, but you could "take it to go," set it up somewhere else and use it like a desktop PC but in a different location.

Everything changed in the 1990s. Networks proliferated, as did cell phones and general use of the Internet. At some point, "portable" computing transitioned into a very different and vastly superior scenario we call "mobile computing."

"Mobile computing" is "portable computing" with computing, connecting and communicating on the go.

In addition to taking a PC with you on a business trip and using it in a hotel room, you can now use your laptop in the taxi cab on the way to the hotel. You could use your cell phone for Web browsing and e-mail from lots of locations. And you could find Wi-Fi networks in coffee houses, airports, homes and offices and connect with either a laptop or cell phone.

Old and busted

Through habit, custom, rules or other limitations, we still feel like prisoners of our offices and cubicles, totally dependent on the "grid" -- both electrical and network. We still use -- often are required to use -- musty, obsolete technologies like landline phones, fax machines, credit cards and paper.

The mobile computing idea has been great. But it still limits us, perhaps more than we realize. We still accept limitations -- places or situations where we can't connect, compute or communicate. We accept our loss of Internet access during flights, while in some foreign countries, while in very remote areas, and when our batteries die or gadgets fail. We accept our inability to access current versions of our documents and files when our laptops crash or in social situations where laptops are inappropriate. Wi-Fi access is still rare, spotty, overpriced and problematic.

When we're away from our offices, we still consider ourselves "out of pocket," "inaccessible," "unavailable" and "offline."

We accept all kinds of limitations on perfect, total, constant and full access to all our stuff and to the myriad capabilities we have while sitting at our desks.

People might defend these limitations as welcome and necessary "breaks" from technology or work, but ultimately, they limit our choice and freedom over how, when and where we can take advantage of information technology.

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Mike Elgan

Computerworld

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