Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ubiquitous Computing

My heart goes out to Barack Obama. Apparently he is urgently advised (though not, strictly speaking, required) to give up his beloved BlackBerry for the duration of his presidency. When he takes office, he’ll be required by law to preserve all his correspondence (electronic and otherwise)—and besides, a cell phone can be traced and could present a security risk.

I’ve only owned a smart phone for a few weeks, but already I’m at a loss to remember how I lived without it—and I’m not nearly as busy as the president. How will he know whether or not to carry an umbrella when he leaves the White House? If he’s stuck in a meeting during an important basketball game, how’s he going to know the score? What’s he going to do with himself if he’s stuck in the bathroom—or wants to be? (Even presidents need a little time out now and then.) It’s easier to sneak a cell phone into the can than a pile of newspapers.

Oh, sure—he can look out the window to check the weather. He’ll be surrounded by aids at all times who can tell him basketball scores. And if the president wants to have every bathroom in Washington stocked with new magazines, who’s going to begrudge him the right?

The problem is that personal computing has become so . . . well, personal. As anyone who owns a smart phone can attest, that little hand-held device quickly becomes an extension of your body and brain—essential for organization and communication. Hooking up to a personal computer almost instantly changes the way you do things in very fundamental ways. And it’s addictive to be able to scroll through the menu items, checking email, headlines, tasks, and appointment calendar—all with the touch of a finger. (I’m an amateur at this, but I’ve been known to do all four while stopped at a long red light.)

It can be persuasively argued that Barack Obama’s comfort and sophistication with the world of ubiquitous computing (or “UC,” as it’s called in the technology world) was a big factor in his successful campaign. Many of those who voted for him never saw an ad on television and followed the events of the campaign, as I did, on a hand-held device. What an irony that, as an individual, he may have to go back to the dark ages (circa 2002) and rely only on his organic brain and a paper planner during the time he’s in charge of the country!