Towards Homo mobilis?

You do not need to share the ideology of The Economist to acknowledge the quality of this magazine’s regular surveys on international political and economic current affairs and social issues. The magazine often discusses the social impact of technological development, as in the special report on mobile communication technology in the 12 April 2008issue.

According to The Economist, the technological development of mobile telecommunications is revolutionising the way in which we work, live and interact. Although this is hardly an original finding, the article illustrates it cleverly.

At the heart of the debate is the convergence between mobile telecommunication technology and the Internet, enabling anyone to reach people or be reached any time, any place and to do everything that we now need to do at a specific time and place. What impact will this have on the organisation of working life, private life and the dividing line between the two? Andreas Kluth has polled, and notably met and interviewed, a series of experts with very different views, including Manuel Castells and Sherry Turkle.

Working from his base in San Francisco, Andreas Kluth uses case studies of the American scene to demonstrate his theories. Some will point to the impossibility of generalising his observations to the world’s population and will deride Kluth’s idea that the lifestyle of a bunch of American gadget geeks, most of whom work in the computing sector, could be adopted planet-wide.

Glued to a BlackBerry or laptop, permanently available but mostly working “[In places such as] cafés, libraries and parks”, between an hour of yoga or shopping and a stroll with the kids, will Homo sapiens evolve into Homo mobilis?

Two of the most telling examples from recent history that may prove Kluth right are the ‘Californian’ lifestyle, which is spreading everywhere you look, and the fact that, whenever a technology exists, people will use it. In a case like this, it inevitably impacts on an individual’s psychology and relationships with others, as well as on the way society works as a whole.

Michel André