The Technium

Your Two Things

[Translations: Japanese]


In ten years from now, how many gadgets will people carry?

Apple would like you to carry 3 things today. The iPad, iPhone and MacBook. Once they would be happy if you carried one. What do they have in mind for the next decade? Ten?

I claim that what technology wants is to specialize, so I predict that any device we have today we’ll have yet more specialized devices in the future. That means there will be hundreds of new devices in the coming years. Are we going to carry them all? Will we have a daypack full of devices? Will every pocket have its own critter?

I think the answer for the average person is 2. We’ll carry two devices in the next decade. Over the long term, say 100 years, we may carry no devices.

The two devices we’ll carry (on average) will be 1) a close-to-body handheld thingie, and 2) a larger tablet thingie at arms length. The handled will be our wallet, purse, camera, phone, navigator, watch, swiss army knife combo. The tablet will be a bigger screen and multi sensor input. It may unfold, or unroll, or expand, or be just a plain plank. Different folks will have different sizes.

But there are caveats. First, we’ll wear a a lot of devices — which is not the same as carrying them. We’ll have devices built into belts, wristbands, necklaces, clothes, or more immediately into glasses or worn on our ears, etc. We wear a watch; we don’t carry it. We wear necklaces, or fit bits, rather than carry. Main difference is being attached it is harder to lose (or lose track of), always intimate. This will be particularly true of quantified self-tracking devices. If we ask the question, ow may devices will you wear in ten years, the answer may be ten.

Secondly, the two devices you carry may not always be the same devices. You may switch them out depending on the location, mode (vacation or work), task at hand. Some days you may need a bigger screen than others.

More importantly, the devices may depend on your vocation. Some jobs want a small text based device (programmers), others may want a large screen (filmmakers), others a very blinding bright display (contractor), or others a flexible collapsible device (salesperson).

The law of technology is that a specialized tool will always be superior to a general purpose tool. No matter how great the built in camera in your phone gets, the best single purpose camera will be better. No matter who great your navigator in your handheld combo gets, the best dedicated navigator will be a lot better. Professionals, or ardent enthusiasts will continue to use the best tools, which will mean the specialized tools.

Just to be clear, the combo is a specialized tool itself, just as a swiss army knife is a specialized knife — it specializes in the combo. It does everything okay.

So another way to restate the equation: the 2 devices each person will carry are one general purpose combination device, and one specialized device (per your major interests and style).

Of course, some folks will carry more than two, like the New York City police officer in the image above (taken in Times Square a few weeks ago). That may be because of their job, or vocation. But they won’t carry them all the time. Even when they are “off” they will carry at least one device, and maybe two.

But I predict that in the longer term we will tend to not carry any devices at all. That’s because we will have so many devices around us, both handheld and built-ins, and each will be capable of recognizing us and displaying to us our own personal interface, that they in effect become ours for the duration of our use. Not too long ago no one carried their own phone. You just used the nearest phone at hand. You borrowed it and did not need to carry your own personal phone around.That would have seemed absurd in 1960. But of course not every room had a phone, not every store had one, not every street had one. So we wanted our own cell phones. But what if almost any device made could be borrowed and used as a communication device? You pick up a camera, or tablet, or remote and talk into it. Then you might not need to carry your own phone again. What if every screen could be hijacked for your immediate purposes? Why carry a screen of your own?

This will not happen in 10 years. But I believe in the goodness of time the highly evolved person will not carry anything.

At the same time the attraction of a totem object, or something to hold in your hands, particularly a gorgeous object, will not diminish. We may remain with one single object that we love, that does most of what we need okay, and that in some ways comes to represent us. Perhaps the highly evolved person carries one distinctive object — which will be buried with them when they die.

At the very least, I don’t think we’ll normally carry more than a couple of things at once, on an ordinary day. The number of devices will proliferate, but each will occupy a smaller and smaller niche. There will be a long tail distribution of devices.

50 years from now a very common ritual upon meeting of old friends will be the mutual exchange and cross examination of what lovely personal thing they have in their pocket or purse. You’ll be able to tell a lot about a person by what they carry.


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