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Only Connect: The iPhone Crosses the Bridge

Alexander Graham Bell speaking into a telephone

The dashboard formerly known as “computing” is always already mobile. It’s when we try to think about mobile computing as a separate category, potentially having something to do with “telephones,” that we make a fundamental error. All computers have always been mobile; granted, the speed and practicality of moving them has improved enormously. And, shrinking the form factor to size of a pocket has also helped– there’s little real difference between a computer and a teleputer.

And, what do we mean when we say “computer?” In its most common usage, it refers to an appliance in the home or office that is used for certain kinds of activities. And this matches up nicely with Doug Engelbart’s idea of computing as an augmentation of human capability. Computers are valuable to the extent people can use them in the course of their lives. They have no value in and of themselves. Even when they’re crunching numbers and calculating astounding Bayesian probabilities, they’re doing so with human purposes as their program. If we focus on Engelbart’s idea of augmentation we can see that the form of a “computer” is unimportant.

After spending a very short time with Apple’s new iPhone software (version 2.0), it’s clear that the iPhone is not a telephone. The name of the device is a bridging mechanism; it creates a familiarity that enables dispersion into the Network. The actual use of the device has now crossed over that bridge. Telephones transmit voice over far distances; they are single purpose and that’s the derivation of their name. Any analysis of usage patterns of the iPhone will show that voice transmission will be a shrinking percentage of overall engagement with the device. The iPhone is not limited to the augmentation of our capability to transmit voice over distance. The first release of the App Store has given us a preview of the many kinds of augmentation to which we can look forward.

EM Forster in his rooms

As friction in the user interface is reduced, and mobility and connectivity is improved; the augmentation layer becomes more transparent. When our vision isn’t clouded by the cumbersome interface of primitive machines, we can look up and see what the Network connects us to.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. 
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, 
And human love will be seen at its height. 
Live in fragments no longer. 
Only connect…

E.M. Forster, Howards End


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