Cell phones are changing our world

31 Aug

August 31, 2006

By Geoff Meeker

During the recent terrorist bombing in Mumbai, the media aired complaints that bystanders stood around and refused to help the injured. The immediate result was a flood of grainy cell phone photos and videos, which showed everyone pitching in and helping each other. A falsehood was struck down, before it could mature into myth.

Yes, cell phones have emerged as one of the most pervasive technologies on earth, changing not just how we talk, but how we see and relate to the world around us.

Cell phones themselves are changing, with exciting new features being added all the time. We aren’t just talking to each other, we’re text messaging, listening to mp3’s, taking pictures, reading email, checking the calendar, surfing the ‘net, taking dictation, and more. Even Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s) are enabled by cell phone technology.

All this can be quite bewildering if you are in the market for a cellular phone. How do you get what you need, without paying for too many features you will never use? For the lowdown, I spoke with Boyd Slade, an authorized Source by Circuit City dealer in Conception Bay South. He said that the optional features, such as cameras and text messaging, are popular among younger people.

“However, the ordinary person wants a slim, compact, lightweight phone that will do the trick for them,” he said. “When you move into an older age group you get a person who wants a phone with the latest in technology but the most inexpensive package. Because the extra features do cost more.”

The next big buzz is downloadable TV, which Slade said is just around the corner. “Which means, if you are waiting at the dentist’s office, you can download the TV signal straight to your cell phone screen. It’s out there now, but still in the testing stages. You will need the new EVDO technology in order to do that, and there are already some phones in the province with that capability.”

In addition to converting a wide swath of the population into amateur photo-journalists, cell phones are having social impacts in other ways. There are examples of lost, abducted or injured people being located by triangulating the signal from their cell phones, much like a GPS system.

Airline regulators are considering allowing the use of cell phones in mid-flight, so there is talk that the ‘no smoking’ sign – which has done its job and is no longer relevant – will be replaced by ‘No cell phone’ signs.

In Asian countries, where cell phone trends and technology always appear first, there is a new service that purportedly alerts you when your caller is lying. The Truthfull Calls service in South Korea is activated by punching in 007 before dialing. It uses the same voice-analysis technology used by Israeli intelligence, says the company offering the service, and gives you a trustworthy rating after the call is over. Another company offers a Love Detector service, which supposedly uses voice patterns to measure and assess the love interest of the person on the other end of the call. Pardon me for being a tad cynical about these developments.

However, there is a new application being developed in the United States with major implications for anyone who has ever been stuck in a traffic jam. Relay towers can determine a cell phone’s position twice a second when in use, and every 30 seconds when the phone is idle. This positional data is available to the service provider but, until now, has never been utilized to its full potential. The IntelliOne system, about to make its debut in Florida, can identify when traffic has backed up on the highway by the number of cell phones that are sitting still, and relays this information to a real-time database that can alert drivers and even recommend alternative routes to work.

You can say what you like about cell phones, irritating and ubiquitous as they may be, but you can’t dispute the enormous impact they are having on our lives.

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