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The Mobile Society 2025

by Mark Adams, on October 29, 2014

Original article at

The Mobile Society 2025

Today we’re used to using our smartphones from the moment we wake to the moment we bed down for the night. Reaching for our smartphones to turn off the alarm clock is the first thing most of us do. We use them on the way to work, during mealtimes, at work, on the way home, in the bathroom and in bed. Research company Flurry estimates that compared to other recent technologies, smart devices are “being adopted 10 times faster than that of the 80’s PC revolution, 2 times faster than that of 90’s Internet Boom and 3 times faster than that of recent social network adoption”. The dependency we have on mobile is such now that it is having socio economic impacts beyond any expectations. Are we heading for a mobile society – where devices are more than just a gateway for communications? They’re a dashboard to our lives, our first port of call for many activities that would otherwise have been done face-to-face in the past.

In all likelihood, this will continue over the next five to ten years. And although conventional wisdom suggests that smartphones are making relationships less personal, I believe that as technology evolves, they will actually enhance our relationships. Relationships with each other; with business; with the media; and with government. There are already trends to support this, such as the rise of video-enhanced interactions for customer support. Amazon’s newly launched Mayday service offers a personal tech advisor that you can see on your screen, helping you resolve technical issues.

The “Internet of Me”

Using mobile for essential activities like shopping is becoming the norm, but it won’t stop there. Mobile devices are emerging as the platform of choice and therefore becoming the everyday gateway to interactions.

Take the area of personal health and fitness, for example. In the past, futurologists might have predicted that we’d never have to physically visit a doctor, instead using technologies such as video to deliver primary care. These ideas were focused around reducing the cost of delivery rather than improving the efficacy of care. But new approaches in gathering data around exercise, diet and health metrics, such as blood pressure, give doctors far more insight to advise and diagnose our future health or monitor existing conditions. Call it the “Internet of Me” if you like, delivered by the device we’re all carrying with us everyday: the smartphone. And if we augment it with tools that can influence our daily behaviour to nudge us towards better health, the role of that device becomes ever more embedded in our lives.

We’ve already heard a lot of about the Internet of Things. I believe we’ll see that developing into something exciting that will touch many aspects of our everyday life, from personal health as I’ve mentioned, to transport, shopping, how we interact with our home and the wider environment. Our location at any given time will increasingly play an important part in that experience, as it gives a valuable context to personalise it. What will really take this technology to the next level are software and hardware form-factors that can make it more user-friendly, whether that is in apps or new wearables.

But many of these developments are very utilitarian. I believe the real innovations in future will be how we engage emotionally with the world around us using these technologies, resulting in a much higher potential to change society as a whole. Not to replace emotional connections, but to super-charge them. We see signs of this already, for example with social apps changing the landscape of dating, increasing use of video-calling between generations of families, the propensity of so-called Generation-Y (or Millenials) to dictate how they wish to interact (digitally) in the workplace and the use of social media to change governments.

In the future, the ease to which we can start (and end) relationships with each other and with institutions will change our horizons, perhaps even drive shorter-term behaviours. Society will need to decide whether it wants this collective short-attention span or if a “slow society” is more preferable. And if technologies evolve to further erode hierarchies and borders, the impact on business and politics will be profound.

Often we can look at what’s happening at the fringes to extrapolate the future. Perhaps we’ll find greater affinity to like-minded individuals online than with national identities constructed centuries ago.


Service in Seconds

Another impact will be how organisations react to our growing expectations of speed in the delivery of information and services. Mobile as an always-on, always-at-your-fingertips platform means we want everything now rather than later. The winners will be those who can get information to people quickly, whether they are public services telling me when I can get a doctor’s appointment, or retailers selling and delivering their goods more quickly.

The need for speed is no trivial matter: many organisations are restructuring themselves in preparation for this more digitally-focused future. Retail, for example, is moving to next day delivery as the norm, with some even offering a 90-minute delivery promise. And Amazon’s Mayday aims at connecting you to an advisor within 15 seconds.

Making the most of data

Data security will be a key challenge. We are already drowning in data as a result of the number of connected devices and apps that exist. The problem of too much data isn’t such an issue for us as it is for the organisations that hold our data. If anything, these organisations have held that data back from us all so as not to confuse us with too many options. This has the effect of limiting our choices somewhat and often we’re presented with seemingly baffling recommendations when shopping.

A fairly new area of research is in predictive analytics. This is about harnessing real-time data, taken from our activities on mobile devices, combining it with other environmental metrics such as weather, and predicting what you might want to do next. Imagine a fitness application that can learn that you prefer to go for a run when the weather is a bit cooler and can notify you if someone at your running level wants to buddy up. The app could make real-time recommendations based on your and your friends’ availabilities and include other factors such as weather and time of day.

But predictive analytics can likely go much further. So much information can already be inferred by the data held by big institutions today, our banks, retailers, the government and social media companies. Research has shown that religion, politics, sexual orientation and ethnicity can already be deduced with a high degree of accuracy from Facebook “Likes”. Those who provide us services would love to understand what we’re likely to do more than what we say we’ll do. Once this data becomes joined up and made available in real-time, our internal motivations will become more open and bigger, macro-level, insights become visible.

Whilst, understandably, we might have concerns about big institutions having information about our inner selves, inferred or otherwise, the potential to use it for policy planning cannot be underestimated. In this new world, we have richer layers of data combined with highly personal information that will allow for more predictable and optimal outcomes. Society will need to adapt to world where it’s not necessarily people who make sweeping generalisations about you but where machines are doing it. If we’re already seeing profiling of sorts happening in retail, is Minority Report really just fantasy in areas such as crime reduction if our presence and our personal data is with us on our mobile devices everywhere we go?

The Enhanced Mobile Workplace

In a post-PC era, many organisations are restructuring themselves to be “mobile-only”. Why are they doing this? The evidence shows cost and efficiency benefits, for sure, but the wider drivers are to do with human factors. In the next few years, we’ll be seeing Generation-Y have greater influence in the workplace, using digital in all its forms to communicate more freely. Employees are already disrupting workplaces by bringing their own devices to work – organisations are having to adapt by building the right infrastructure, support systems and security policies around it. We’re going to see more of that as mobile becomes central to how we all work.

But what does having a more mobile workplace do to the culture? We hear a lot about how innovation is key to the future of business. Innovation requires free thinking and a laissez-faire attitude to control. Well, traditional thinking says that businesses wishing to foster autonomy need to remove barriers and rigid processes in their organisations and there are few sign-posts like improving workplace mobility to deliver that. The new workplace will place greater emphasis on collaboration and decision-making literally at people’s fingertips, which can only serve to speed up workflows, allow for experimentation and fail-fast if things don’t work out. A new enhanced-mobile workplace goes hand-in-hand with trusting your employees more, so for some organisations, this will require a shift in culture.

Just as international boundaries become more fluid, at least in the virtual sense, so will corporate boundaries. Greater levels of collaboration will occur within organisations and also between organisations. And for the employee, the boundary between personal time and work time will blur further but this will be traded against greater flexibility on location, hours of work and autonomy.

The question of trust – security, transparency and control

As for the risks of our increasing dependency on technology, I take a philosophical view. As our mobile devices become more central to our lives, we’ll need to make decisions regarding trust as if they were a person. Do you trust them to look after all your photos and hold all your house keys? Do you trust them with your data about where you go and what you do? And even if you do, wouldn’t it be better to make contingency plans in case they let you down?

I believe trust will be a big area of focus going forward. Up until recently, the security of things like credit cards has been the main focus of many organisations. They’re now starting to realise that the security of our personal data is way more important.

As the use of the data becomes more evident to society, organisations will need to be more transparent with what the data is and how it will be used. Organisations with data will increasingly be under pressure to give users the control to decide: we’re already seeing the battle lines being drawn in the smartphone wars between Apple and Google, for example, with the former stating publically a very different privacy policy to the latter, also introducing some technologies that prevent tracking over public Wi-Fi hotpots. Simplicity of these controls will be key – trust will not be gained by organisations that make this a convoluted affair, as obfuscation will only serve to increase suspicion that some of our data will still leak.

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