The ever-increasing number of smart devices and the mobilization of technology in general has precipitated a number of importance changes in the way people conduct their private and public lives. By examining some importance developments in the area of healthcare, commerce, and politics, this essay argues that mobile devices have already fundamentally altered the human experience of the world, and will continue to do so at an exponential rate. Examining these three areas reveals how mobile technologies serve to remove physical and monetary barriers while increasing the individual's ability to access and organize important information, both in regards to their personal lives and their public lives in both the economic and political spheres.
Over the course of the last decade, the mobilization and miniaturization of technology in the form of mobile phones and other portable devices has led to such dramatic and varied developments that one finds it almost impossible to deny the very real impacts this technology has had, and will continue to have, on the way we conduct our lives in both the public and private sense. This is because technology does not only offer new ways of accomplishing old tasks, but also precipitates a fundamental shift in thinking on the part of the person using that technology. By examining the various ways in which the mobilization of technology has produced dramatic developments in the realm of health, commerce, and politics, one will be able to see how fully this technology has altered the way in which human beings approach the world, producing meaningful changes across all of these areas.
Before examining the ways in which the mobilization of technology in the form of smartphones and other portable devices has transformed healthcare, commerce, and politics, it will be useful to first discuss how technology affects human beings in general, in order to appreciate how these devices have come to function as a kind of advanced prothesis, seamlessly embedding previously disparate technologies into everyday life. In his book Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan argues that "in the electrical age, […] our central nervous system is technologically extended to involve us in the whole of mankind and to incorporate the whole of mankind in us," with each technology serving as an "extension of ourselves" (McLuhan 1964, 4, 7). McLuhan's statement is striking for the way he seemingly predicts the development of a world wide Internet well before it actually appeared, but for the purposes of this essay, the most important thing to note is the way in which McLuhan describes technologies as extensions of humanity. He does not mean this in a merely figurative sense, but rather argues that all technology functions as an extension of the human body and consciousness in a very literal sense because that technology is actually the most important expression, or as he puts it, "the medium is the message" (McLuhan 1964, 7). Thus, when attempting to consider the most important thing about mobile technologies and their impact on human life, one may look towards the direct connection between these technologies and the human body itself, as well as the way in which this connection orders and affects one's perceptions of the world.
Although mobile phones did not really exist at the time of McLuhan's writing, he was nonetheless able to identify a number of technologies that appeared to be direct extensions of human organs, such as the television, typewriter, and telephone. The mobile phone, and smartphones such as the Apple iPhone in particular, function as extensions of the human body in the way discussed by McLuhan, but in a way largely unprecedented at any previous point in human history due to the way in which mobile phones integrate a number of previously disparate technologies. For example, the inclusion of a touchscreen, camera, and accelerometer alongside a microphone and cellular antenna makes the iPhone far more than a mobile phone, because it can perform an almost infinite number of functions depending on the particular piece of software in use.
The mobile phone's compact size means that it can be kept close to the body and constantly accessible, further integrating these technologies into the human body. Furthermore, the inclusion of touchscreen and voice recognition technologies further removes barriers between the technology and the person, such that the necessary interactions appear natural, intuitive, and seamless. In turn, this precipitates a shift in both conscious and unconscious thought on the part of the user, because the information and abilities offered by a smartphone force the user to interpret his or her surroundings in entirely new ways, in the same way that people with differing levels of physical mobility or sensory awareness experience the world differently. The biggest technological accomplishment of the digital age is the condensing of preexisting technologies into a form that reduces the gap between biology and technology far more dramatically than any preexisting medium, and the shifts in thinking brought about by this condensation are ultimately responsible for the dramatic impacts on the way people conduct their lives. In order to appreciate the myriad affects of these mobile devices on the conduct of human life, one may look towards three important areas which have all seen disruptive change as a result of mobile technology: healthcare, commerce, and politics.
One of the most important impacts the mobilization of technology has had on the conduct of human life is in the realm of healthcare, where smartphones have enabled a number of advances in both diagnosis and treatment. In fact, "72% of U.S. physicians use smart phones, predicted to go up to 81% by 2012; and 22% of U.S. physicians use iPads," because these devices allow physicians to do research online, examine patient records and images, and even perform some kinds of tests all with the use of a single, relatively cheap device whose functions would have previously been divided up amongst disparate, more expensive devices (Henderson 2011, 18). While many of the applications which facilitate the use of mobile devices in this way are still undergoing testing and quality controls to ensure that they can be adopted as reliable pieces of a physicians larger toolkit, these recent developments hint at the far broader changes imminent in the realm of personalized healthcare as a result of mobile technologies.
Even beyond the more general advancements in healthcare technology brought about the mobilization of technology, mobile technologies have produced better health in more specific ways, demonstrating how mobile technology has transformed the human experience across the board. For example, research has shown that mobile phones produce marked heath benefits for the homeless who have access to them, because they allow easier access to rooms as well as the social supports necessary for maintaining sobriety and healthy standards of living, even when staying on the streets (Eyrich-garg 2010, 376). Though this might seem odd to someone assuming that the homeless would not have access to the relatively expensive technology of a mobile phone, in reality mobile technology has only been dropping in price, and the health and security benefits offered by a mobile phone make the investment well worth the cost, even for the homeless.
As these technologies become even cheaper, one can imagine the benefits it will have for the homeless and other vulnerable populations, because it will offer them a means of accessing important information while maintaining a relatively decent standard of healthcare due to the ease with which they will be able to diagnose themselves or contain information useful to first responders and other healthcare personnel. Many universities have taken the lead in this regard by maintaining "a student profile that lists physical description and critical medical data for first responders" within an application used to contact campus police and paramedics, and this same kind of software could be used more generally (Chapel 2008, 19). Thus, the mobile phone has the potential to become a kind of total medical bracelet by combining access to health services with personalized healthcare data in a seamless fashion, granting the individual better information about his or her own health while providing healthcare professionals with far more accurate and cheaper means of assessing their patients. Again, while many of these projects are in their infancy, they demonstrate the disruptive impact the mobilization of technology will have on the way people manage their health in the future.
In addition to healthcare, the mobilization of technology has impacted commerce in a fundamental way by changing the context of transactions for both the consumer and the business itself. In turn, this has precipitated a change in the way people conduct their work lives in general, because the nature of work in the twenty-first century has been transformed by the emergence of mobile technologies. Depending on the particular definition of mobile commerce used, as of 2008 business conducted via mobile technologies accounted for anywhere between $55 billion to $200 billion of the global economy (Kim, Jin & Park 2009, 216, & Schneiderman 2002, 2). The important thing to note about the booming "m-commerce" economy is the…