Magazine article Online

We Are Everywhere

Magazine article Online

We Are Everywhere

Article excerpt

Reva Basch can't maintain a conversation, period, in the morning, let alone with an appliance. She is author of Researching Online For Dummies and executive editor of the new Super Searchers book series.

Small isn't just beautiful--it's mandatory. The macho-nerd vanguard has declared desktop computers obsolete. "I don't even own one anymore," one member of the Palm Pilot brigade told me not long ago. "Why should I? I'm hardly ever in my office. It's all on my laptop now."

"Boys and their toys" was my first reaction, arguing about whose is smaller--although this particular knowledge-warrior happened to be a woman. But the digital downscaling isn't really about size, it's about freedom.

Think about it. Battery life and radio waves are the currency of cool. The workaholic geek at the airport who draws fellow travelers' envious stares today isn't just working on his laptop, but checking his email with a wireless connection.

WIRED magazine's Kevin Kelly envisions a near-future in which computers will be ubiquitous. Don't confuse "ubiquity" with "convergence," although their buzzword quotient is roughly equivalent. Ubiquity means more than WebTV in every living room. I'd bet that the number of people who compute with the TV on, multitasking between the two appliances, is and will continue to be several times larger than the installed base of WebTVs for several years to come. I'd also bet that the Net novices toward whom WebTV marketing is aimed are purchasing iMacs instead. As the head of a wireless industry trade association said recently "The only combination device the American public has bought in great numbers is the clock-radio." And, I might add, the Swiss Army knife.

Ubiquitous computing is about getting small. It's about divergence rather than convergence. Ultimately, it's about nanosystems, tiny technologies--embedded, interlinked, and so unobtrusive that we take them for granted, like the plumbing and the wiring in our walls.

EXAMPLE: Sun, IBM, Motorola, and a dozen or so other major international companies are working together to develop standards for interconnecting Java-based smart devices. Sun is running full-page newspaper ads touting its Java-based Jim technology. The one in my local paper shows a portable CD player, a wristwatch, a computer printer, and a washing machine arrayed in a circle around the statement: "Maybe all your toaster needed was someone to talk to. …

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