The Mobile Web: A Reconsideration

Tim Horton's in Williams LakeLast week I may have been unduly harsh on mobile use of the web and internet. Initially I considered it in reference to its traditional counterpart. In fact the internet accessed through a mobile phone or handheld computer is a different beast altogether.

Whereas the desktop internet, in its most common use, is a medium primarily of information consumption, the mobile web is more about publishing and sharing.

This shouldn’t be so surprising, considering the mobile phone is an appliance designed for telecommunication whereas the computer, in common parlance, is a “workstation”. What is interesting, however, is how mobile technology makes delivering all sorts of material – from video to text – so much easier than a desktop computer, despite its size and relative lack of computing oomph.

I had the opportunity this past week to take a road trip down the Alaska Highway to Vancouver. Before I left I set up a small blog to which I planned to publish photos and stories of my short journey using just my handheld smartphone, a Palm Treo.

It was just for my family and was intended more as an experiment than a serious project. Because I was going to be so mobile (constantly driving) and in mostly rural areas, I fully expected the effort to be for naught.

The opposite quickly became true. Much of the highway down through BC is blanketed with data-enabled cell access. I was instantly addicted to sticking my smartphone into the air through my sunroof, snapping a picture, and publishing it to the blog. The entire act took only a few minutes. I started to publish every moose, caribou, bear, and bunny I spotted to my blog.

It was much easier and less time consuming than using a desktop computer. I think this is partly due to the fact that a smartphone is a much more technically integrated device. But it’s also the fact that hurling down the highway I’m enveloped in wireless internet access for vast distances; the process is so inspired and immediate.

During the early years of the internet’s burgeoning popularity a student at MIT had fashioned a crude video broadcast unit like some latter day suit of armour. He wore it everywhere (even the bathroom, apparently) and used it to transmit his every moment to the internet for all to see.

It occurred to me that I was using an evolved method of his seminal efforts to publish, while not every minute, at least selected snapshot moments of my own journey (though, I admit, I did publish one interesting outhouse moment). My smartphone was the equivalent of his mammoth contraption barely a decade later.

My photo blog grew into a crude, disjointed photo album of mostly meaningless, unrecognizable images. I don’t know as anyone in my family really received any benefit from this mishmash of images, save the solace of knowing I hadn’t yet crashed up in my haste to reach civilization.

But it gave me secret pleasure to know I’d fashioned a somewhat unique form of documentary reportage for the digital age.

It’s interesting to note, however, that even my adventurous publishing efforts pale in comparison to what I might have been able to accomplish in other parts of the globe.

Last year in Ireland I received a demonstration of live handheld video teleconferencing from a sales guy in one of the zillions of mobile phone boutiques thay have over there. It was amazing, so totally Jetsons.

European and Asian cell phone networks are generally more advanced than the ones we have in North America, so for my personal purposes this was little more than a glimpse into the future.

However, rather than use these advanced networks and technologies for direct communication and downloading of media, as industry had expected, folks in the UK were more likely to use their phones as camcorders that could instantly publish to the web.

All the same, I found the boundless capacity of mobile publishing to be inspiring and enlightening. It will be quite difficult to return to my home office and chain myself back up to my desktop. Even my home wireless network, which barely reaches to the end of my backyard, will seem an invisible prison.

So in the spirit of the mobile internet, I’ve even composed this short column on my Treo while in unusual locations: standing on the Burrard Street Bridge; waiting in line for Bard on the Beach; on the Seabus; and in my car (don’t worry, I pulled over and parked).

I’ll soon be back in Whitehorse, where we may have the midnight sun but we don’t have truly wireless internet. How dark the days will seem.

First published in the Yukon News on Friday, August 4, 2006.

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7 thoughts on “The Mobile Web: A Reconsideration

  1. It’s interesting with my new car: young people call it either a “pimpmobile” or a “girlie car” while older people have referred to it as “distinguished”, “rich”, or “distinctive”. I can see both perspectives, but tend to agree with the latter. Perhaps this means I’m growing up (finally!).

    Either way, one thing is for sure: everybody has something to say about it; try and get that reaction with a Honda/Toyota/Ford/Chrysler/Kia/Nissan. Won’t happen.

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  3. No way. That’s a pimpmobile ’cause those lo-pro wheels make it so. Pop some spinners on there and you be mackin’. Rollin’, rollin’.

    Whatever it’s label, you’ll sure stand out from the sea of Civics, Echos, Focuses, Rios and Outbacks around these parts.

    Though I would be a bit scared of said lo-pros in mid-February when ripping up or down the roads out of downtown.

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