Almost Losing Sight Of The Magic Of (Mobile) Maps

Often maligned and ignored, sometimes science fiction writers are bang on the mark. The cognoscenti of the high brow literary world often dismiss science fiction as being not proper writing or even worthy of the label of literature. But sci-fi authors are often as not as uniquely placed to think about today’s technology as they are to extrapolate on tomorrow’s.

Recently, Charles Stross, one of my favourite sci-fi authors, gave a keynote at USENIX 2011 on Network Security In The Medium Term, 2061 To 2561. Not the most obvious of keynote titles to talk about maps or magic. But as part of his keynote, which is well worth reading in its entirety, he talked about how far technology has come in just the last 50 years and where it might go before the next 50 …

… we’re currently raising the first generation of kids who won’t know what it means to be lost – everywhere they go, they have GPS service and a moving map that will helpfully show them how to get wherever they want to go. It’s not hard to envisage an app that goes a step beyond Google Maps on your smartphone, whereby it not only shows you how to get from point A to point B, but it can book transport to get you there – by taxi, ride-share, or plane – within your budgetary and other constraints. That’s not even far-fetched: it’s just what you get when you tie the mutant offspring of Hipmunk or Kayak into Google, and add Paypal … it’s magic: you have a little glowing box, and if you tell it “I want to visit my cousin Bill, wherever he is,” a taxi will pull up and take you to Bill’s house (if he lives nearby), or a Greyhound bus station, or the airport. (Better hope he’s not visiting Nepal; that could be expensive.)

In today’s full on rush to monetize, to not get caught up in a patent suit and to either spot or be the next big thing, it’s easy to lose sight of just how magical the technology we take for granted is.

Consider, just for a moment, how much computing power and connectivity today’s sensor packed smartphones have in them. As I’ve mentioned before, just one of my phones has more CPU power, more storage and more connectivity options than the first computer I ever used as part of my day job, with the added bonus that it fits in my pocket and doesn’t require it’s own dedicated power supply and air conditioned room, which would restrict mobility somewhat.

Add to all of that that I’m writing this post using the Blogsy app on my iPad while on holiday in Spain, which is connected to a web server somewhere in the United States (I’ve no real idea where) over a data connection running via one of my phones which is also acting as a mobile wifi hotspot and which also tells me the GPS coordinates, accurate to 4 metres, of where I am and which appear in the sort of geotag I put at the end of my posts.

When I was in my (much) younger years, I grew up with 3 terrestrial TV channels, no PC’s, mobile phones or web sites and when London still had an 01 dialling code and so, from where I’m sitting, there’s something distinctly magical about all of this and its oh so easy to lose sight of that.

Unless of course, you’re one of the generation who grew up with on demand movies, smartphones, bazillions of TV channels, chatting with your friends on Facebook and with GPS in your phone and can’t really see what the fuss is all about; in which case, just indulge me when I say that today’s technology is magical and tomorrow’s probably will be for you too.

Written and posted from Villa Stone, Javéa, Spain (38.7836, 0.1285)

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