If you wondered about how our personal worlds may change through technological advance in the not very distant future, consider this.
I bought my first computer in 1983. It didn’t have an operating system. The Internet was a shadowy technology few people had heard of outside the military and academia. On my computer all I really did was word processing. I could write articles on it, slightly smoother and quicker than I could on an old-fashioned typewriter. Together with a printer, it costs over £1000. That is a barely credible £3190 today.
33 years on I have in my hand my (3rd Gen) – in fact I’m dictating this article into it through the latest Nuance Dragon Anywhere programme. It is 99% accurate, and sets down my words faster than I could ever hope to with my fingers. That is just about the most cutting-edge speech technology I could buy and it isn’t cheap – it costs about £144 a year. But then my Motorola phone cost me only £159,, and, as well as dictation, there is not a single thing relevant to my job it doesn’t do.
So it’s my writing instrument of choice, my (13 MP) camera, my Internet research tool, my radio, my TV (or to be precise my source of an infinite number of broadcasts from BBC iPlayer and many other locations) and my way of communicating with, and publishing to, the world through social media and my various blog sites.
It can be my telephone, and my video link. (It is Android, so I can’t use Facetime, but Skype does just as well.) It charts the distance I cover daily by walking, running or cycling, and if I subscribe to various premium apps it would also monitor my blood pressure and other vital functions.
Almost incidentally is an alarm clock. It’s a book. It’s a torch. It’s a newspaper. It’s a stopwatch. It’s a voice recorder. It’s a recipe book. It’s a diary, a prompt, and it can monitor my spending. It runs apps that help me learn new languages. Should I even say it’s a cinema. I haven’t tried that yet.
And this is quite new. Using my phone I can now control the lights and heating in my home from a long way away, using a system such as Hive. This saves me money and, possibly, deters the burglars.
It’s precious, but not all that much. It cost considerably less than an iPhone – which few people actually own. (People tend to rent iPhones, which masks the true cost (a 16G iPhone 5s is £379) if you bought it in the shop.)
If I lost or broke it, provided the data and programmes are backed up, I can replace it for the cost of a routine small car maintenance bill, or an average night out at a show or theatre for two people with meals.
Compare the cost of this efficient and very reliable device, which takes care of so many of my daily needs, with the only other thing I and most people think is essential to own. A car. (Personal mobility is one one of the few things the smartphone cannot do for us, although it can, of course, call us a cab.
We pay thousands of pounds for cars, and leave them parked most of the time outside in the street. My Motorola smart phone, by contrast, is in constant use. We could buy 100 smartphones for the price of the little-used, polluting, street-clogging, expensive to run and dangerous average car, which may be one reason why that is old technology is definitely on the way out. Before long we will be using our smartphones to summon a self driving car.
I can’t speak for other models, but I can say this. I’ve never owned anything as comprehensively useful as my Motorola smartphone. So when we look 30 years on from now, be prepared for technological leaps, in personal mobility, in monitoring our health, in powering and operating our homes, which could be quite beyond our comprehension.