Ubiquitous solutions for ubiquitous calls
I went home this weekend for a few days of rest, relaxation, and realignment with reality. (College really takes it out of me.) It is a homecoming tradition, now, that we watch one (or more) of the Star Trek episodes I downloaded on Case’s divine Internet connection. We set my laptop on the end of the bed, since my brother had claimed the family’s only DVD player so he could watch Lois and Clark with his girlfriend.
(As you may have suspected from our choice of viewing, we ascribe to the theory that there is nothing good on TV anymore, and hence, perpetually watch reruns of our favorite classics. Come to think of it, we could have set aside the reruns and joined millions of Americans in flushing their intellect down the toilet by watching the premier of reality show “The Biggest Loser.” Go ahead and google the name if you are fortunate enough to not have heard of it. I suspect that you will agree that it will live up to its name when the ratings come out.)
Anyway, my dad, my mom, and I are all snuggled under the covers watching the show. Suddenly, in the span of about fifteen minutes, we receive five calls. Dad fulfills his paternal duty each time, gets up, and answers the calls. First call: brother’s friend, not for anyone upstairs. Second call: girlfriend’s dad, obviously not with us. Third call: young female voice; I can’t remember the last time a young female called me, so this call goes to the basement too. The last two calls are for my dad. They are people simply telling him that they want a ride to church on Sunday. He drives the church bus and picks up those who don’t have cars so they can attend the service. Around the fourth call, my mom protests, “No cell phones in the theater!” I readily agree.
What does this story have to do with ubiquitous computing? Well, it should be apparent that none of these calls needed to interrupt our Star Trek viewing. Three were redirected, and two were simply a name and an address. From this comes the most promising aspect of ubiquitous computing—smart phones. A smart phone system would not have communal phones, where a person has the possibility of wasting his time answering someone else’s call. Some households have addressed this problem by buying all members, tweenagers and up, his or her own cell phone. They then promptly cancel their unnecessary landline phone, avoiding the outrageous federal phone taxes. A smart phone system would recognize that certain people do not normally need to reach an actual person and would ask people on this list to leave a message, unless they have other concerns and want to bypass the automatic system.
Instant messengers have used “busy” messages, “appear offline” settings, and an “always visible” list allow the section of who can talk to the user, when they can talk to the user, and everyone can leave a message. Cell phone users have discovered text messaging as a way to send information that does not require an inefficient call. It should be apparent that none of today’s phone problems have technological hurdles to jump. (The financial cost of a cell phone may be an exception.) All that must happen is that the inconvenience of installing a radically different communication system must drop below the cumulative inconveniences of an inefficient system. It is less of a technological problem and more of a sociological and economic one.