Way, way, way back in 2005 when I first started Pegasus News, I used to talk about how the Internet had changed human communication more than any innovation since Gutenberg’s printing press. The fact that everyone could be a publisher seemed as liberating as the move from hand-inscribed books to mass-printed tomes and papers.
Now, I realize that what we saw in 2005 was just the first act, the prototype — and it is the mobile advances of the last couple years that may be the most significant change to the way we live day in and out.
Smartphones like the iPhone and the latest Android phones, as well as tablet devices like the iPad have changed the game, both in terms of consumption and creation, perhaps more meaningfully than computers ever did or will.
Assuming you’re over 25, think back to the first computer you used: It was probably for work or for school, and a specific set of functions dictated how you used the machine. It was a tool, nothing more than a much more efficient typewriter or adding machine. Many have brought these devices into their home and personal lives, but the percentage is far lower than you might think. There is a very digital divide — I can see it in the difference in response when I send targeted emails in major metros as opposed to smaller, more blue collar markets. The latter are filled with Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL addresses and are more often read at night, as they lack access to Internet computing at work.
But mobile is ubiquitous. Almost everyone has a cell phone of some sort, and by the end of this year, you will hardly be able to buy a phone that doesn’t provide email and browser access.
Think that mobile information doesn’t have impact? Consider these stats about how mobile is affecting our local lives:
- Mobile search is growing more than 50% per year, with 1.5 billion searches to be made this year.
- 80% of buyers research major purchases to be made within 20 miles of their home online.
- Right this minute, half of the connections to the Internet are mobile devices.
- The top means of accessing local information online is the mobile browser.
But it’s not just about consuming information: Twitter, Posterous, Foursquare, Facebook and other self-publishing mechanisms have all grown exponentially because of mobile connection. Shooting video and then editing and posting on a computer can be a big hassle, and a barrier to participation. New devices like the iPhone 4 make these all simple and instantaneous. (The video at right was shot, edited and posted on Lake Ray Hubbard in less than ten minutes.) Any smart site like Dallas South News has a special mobile edition.
Tablet devices like the iPad are just as disruptive — they both create a light computing experience for those not so technologically inclined and allow techies like me to be nearly fully-armed in more places with less effort. Since I got my iPad, I have read 10x more than I did before. And I know that my Mom won’t get confused or inadvertently download viruses using the device.
There is no part of our lives that mobile communication doesn’t impact. I recently saw a friend tweeting that when his pastor asked the congregation to show their bibles, there were more devices than paper-bound books. Advertising, increasingly has to consider not only demographics, but current location.
The question then is how are we going to utilize these new technologies? Are they just another weapon of mass distraction, another way to find out what LeBron James or Lindsay Lohan are up to today? Or will we use them to better transform our communities? An HD video of one’s children or pets is a luxury the likes of which no society has ever enjoyed. A similar video of a town council or school board meeting is nearly as easy to create and distribute and has far more impact.
I suspect that you have some idea how mobile communication and connectivity has impacted your life, whether it is a video chat with your family while traveling; connecting with an old friend on Facebook; playing a Farmville-type game to kill time at stoplights; or finding that special restaurant on the road. We are in the initial moments of the mobile age, where those a block, a mile and a timezone away can all be touched in an instant. I only hope that our use of that gift is as profound as what has been done with Gutenberg’s tool.