Monday, October 1, 2007

How mobile technology has changed the way we work


By Brenda Coxe

If we could go back in time -- even "just" twenty-five years ago -- we'd see a world of difference in comparison to the technology of today. Although cell phones were in existence, the average person did not own one, and those that were in use were quite bulky and heavy.

In addition, there were no plans with minutes as we have today -- you were billed for every call you made, and you were billed a lot. Though it's possible the first laptop came into existence in 1979 and was used by NASA, the Osborne 1 is credited with being the first portable computer.

Shaped like a suitcase, it was developed in 1981 and weighed 24 pounds, incredibly heavy in comparison to today's standards. In March 1983, Compaq Computer began shipping the first portable PCs, a move that contributed to Osborne filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. [Actually a big part of the problem was that Osborne pre-announced its next-generation portable and couldn't deliver. Rather than buying the currently shipping product, customers simply held back spending and waited -- until Osborne just ran out of money. --Ed.]

The advantage of the Compaq was its that it was IBM compatible, a process that took some time for it to achieve because of some technicalities between the implementation of the software and permission from IBM. It was, however, a start in the right direction.

That was then, this is now

Many technological changes have taken place since those early days, and today most people have a cell phone, and many others own both a cell phone and a laptop computer. In addition, many companies provide their key employees with a company phone and a laptop in order to keep in touch when they are on the road. Other companies allow their employees to telecommute part of the time, and provide them with a laptop computer in order to do that.

On-call employees who once had to make sure they were near a phone to answer a pager now carry a cell phone and can be anywhere within the range of that portable instrument. Though that capability may not include being high in the mountains, for most other places it is quite useful. Doctors, for example, can now attend events while on-call and not have to find a payphone in order to answer a page. Certainly, they may have to find a quiet place to use the phone, but that is much less of a walk than having to find the payphone. This has become something of a self-fulfilling demand curve; the large number of people carrying cell phones has led many businesses to remove pay phones completely.

Mobile technology has moved the world at a fast pace, and in some ways, it has created monsters of many people who now feel the need to work at the office and bring work home as well. Before the introduction of portable devices, when a person left the office, his or her work was complete for the day -- at least in most cases.