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Nomadic Homo Mobilis

Author: Mark Dixon
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
4:03 am

The April 12th edition of the Economist features an exellent series of articles on the impact of mobile telephony and computing on society. I recommend careful reading of the article by anyone associated with or impacted by the mobility culture. That is just about all of us.

I am writing this article from my hotel room in Frisco, TX, where I am staying to address Sun’s Identity Management Roadshow later in the day. I find myself a protypical nomad described in the article, “Nomads at Last.” Enabled by an laptop, PDA, email, mobile telephony, and social media, I am no longer tethered to a specific office, but can set up shop almost anywhere, any time.

The mobility phenomena is even changing our language, as evidenced by a recent text message I received from my 14 year old daughter to wrap up a SMS sequence: “Ok well i gtg so ttyl.” (I’ve got to go, so talk to you later, in SMS speak.)

The Homo Mobilis article suggests, “If researchers in ivory towers now debate the arrival of Homo mobilis, their tongue is only partially in their cheek. Once again the biggest shift seems to involve language, and by implication thought and feeling. That major linguistic change is afoot is clear to anybody who has been around young people almost anywhere in the world. Entire subcultures now define themselves primarily or exclusively through their chosen text-messaging or instant-messaging argot.”

All of this change, however, oddly enables closer family ties. With each member of our large family (yep, 6 kids) having mobile phones, email and blogs, we check up on each other frequently and stay in remarkably close communications. When I was travelling extensively in the 1980’s, I had to let my wife know the precise telephone numbers where she could call me during the day and night. Now, she’ll often ask, “Where are you today?” when I call from a distant city. My precise location has become much less important because mobile phones and email have effectively collapsed time and space.

Ironically, because of location-based services that add “the third element (‘where’) required to understand a person’s context, the other two being who and when”, Claudia might not even have to ask where I am. She will always know. One problem, though – if I hug my phone, I don’t get nearly the same response as I get from her!

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