Nearly a decade ago, I was on a road trip with an administrator from my university and I filled some time with verbalizing my take on the future of cell phones. While now that prediction seems common sense, it wasn’t at the time. I’ve therefore decided to put my latest prediction in print — that of the future, the internet of things, the end of the world.
Come and pier with me into my crystal ball!
Ok, so maybe it’s actually made of acrylic and maybe it’s my fish tank. That doesn’t mean it’s not magical.
Actually, let’s first go back to my 2005 prediction, so that you believe in my magic fish tank of wonder. This was way back when people still used their voice boxes more than texts. Remember those days?! At the time, I had a fancy flip phone with a rainbow of colored LED indicators on its face. There was a tiny color display, too, and this was hot shit at the time. I could even take teeny, tiny pictures! My university administrator companion had a Blackberry or something like it with monochrome, text-only e-mail capabilities. This was an even bigger BFD at the time.
I mused that very soon a cell phone would not be a phone much at all. The term “phone” would be a complete misnomer, because every other function on the device would be more relevant. It would be a person’s everything, every device. It would be their thing, not their phone, because if they left the house without it, they would be rendered impotent, ineffectual — useless.
He said he thought things were already that way because it he could take pictures and read his e-mail. I laughed and said, “yeah, but how great are those pictures? People still want a separate camera that’s just a device for taking great pictures. And it’s still a lot easier working on a full-sized computer for your e-mail and web browsing. You still need a computer every day to do your job. In the future, these devices are going to be all that plus way more than we can imagine now.”
I think, looking back now, I was pretty spot on. And now that we’ve all moved along down the road, I think I can see a lot farther up the path. Shall I share with you what I see?
Oh good, you’re still here! So maybe you’ve noticed that cellular devices were getting smaller and smaller…and now they are getting bigger again. Meanwhile, computers are getting smaller, and smaller. Maybe you’ve also seen this image from Apple:
So what’s the ultimate end point of this? Yes the watch on the left is very small but it still pairs with an iPhone and a display of a phone will still be preferable to any wearable device for a while. Will the sizes converge into something midway between full-sized monitor and tiny watch face but with capabilities of a full-sized computer? Yeah, sure, that’s very possible. Phones now have exponentially more computing power than the first computers I toyed with. But I’m looking beyond even that. It’s actually already pictured in the image above. You see how the displays you need to purchase get smaller and smaller and smaller, until… nothing? That’s it. In the farther-out future, it’s going to be nothing.
But Erin, what the fuck are you even talking about?
Calm yourself and I will tell you! This brings us to….
THE INTERNET OF THINGS
The best example I can think of to explain my ideas is also one of the most unexpectedly dynamic industries of the past 20 years: not circuit board manufacturing, not robotics, not space exploration, but simple cartography.
Back in 2001, when I was 19, MapQuest was just becoming a thing. Yeah, most people knew about it, but it still sucked a lot of ass and was not to be trusted for the most part. When I set out for Washington, D.C. for a Napster rally (yes, Napster, remember that?), from Rochester, N.Y., there was no way in hell I was using an online route-mapping service. I bought a paper atlas and got a real, analog pen and real, analog paper and traced out my journey turn by turn. I consider this to be a valuable old-timer skill that will give me an advantage over Gen-Y-ers when the zombie apocalypse hits… but I digress.
So then what happened to maps? Yeah, MapQuest eventually got pretty damn good, and then everyone was printing out directions from the site before they embarked on their trips. Then GoogleMaps put MapQuest to shame and became a #1 choice in the People’s maps. Then what? Yeah, so then everyone got cell phones with enough computing power to have GoogleMaps in their pocket. I mean, it took iPhone users a little longer, but we’re all here now! So that’s it, right? That’s the end of that line of innovation? Nope. You know what is still a desirable luxury option? Navigation systems in cars. Yeah, you could pull out your little phone screen and dick around with it in a dark, robber-filled parking lot trying to position it so that you can see it while driving… and then scour your floorboards looking for the charger, ’cause, oh dammit, the battery is dying! OR. Or you could turn on your higher-end car and let its already powered and perfectly positioned display take you where you want to go.
And that’s the future. The car makes your phone, the Thing, your everything machine obsolete because it’s connected to the grid. Ok, so not really internet, just a satellite signal, but still, it’s not guiding you by the shadow the sun casts. Sorry, Eratosthenes.
When we become surrounded more and more by devices capable of connectivity, a cell phone will become, for the most part, irrelevant. Think Orwell’s 1984 where Big Brother is just a monitor away, and where monitors are part of every room. With the Cloud, every access point, whether in your car, your television, your refrigerator, a welcome sign in a hotel lobby, a beer coaster at a bar, can be capable of the same computing power, because the computing will no longer need to be done at the device. It need only be a capable messenger of questions up to the Cloud and answers back down…and in reverse with more and more frequency as time continues.
There is just one additional thing this scenario would require, which brings us to:
THE END OF THE WORLD
For an individual to have secure connectivity to all that the Cloud would allow, including medical records, prescriptions, traffic violation records and above all, control of their bank accounts, one thing is still needed: a unique identifier for each individual a lot more protected than your Google+ identity, and yet, very similar to your Google identity, as it would be used for a great multitude of things. Everyone would need a unique log-in someone else couldn’t easily fake. Suggestions were made for how this could be accomplished a couple millennia ago.
There are differing takes on this passage — was it meant literally or figuratively? Let’s take the following as a literal prophecy for this imagining:
Revelation 13:16-17, King James Version
16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
Would that be an RFID chip, a tattoo, another sort of impant, or the mapping of some biomarker a little more likely to stay a part of you than your thumb? Who knows. I think it’s a good bet it would be made a fairly permanent part of your body, though.
As long as a person’s identity could be uniquely and accurately defined, the technology to do so wouldn’t become obsolete so soon, whereas the Apple Watch, which has computing power, will be obsolete when the next generation is released 14 months later. No, in the Cloud-based world, the Cloud can continue to make leaps in advancements even while the individual’s key to Cloud access remains static. There would be little risk in jumping aboard as an early adopter of identifier technology — at least in all things not related to your soul…
…because, be forewarned:
Revelation 14:9-11, King James Version
9 And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand,
10 The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
11 And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.