The era of ubiquitous computing is here, and it’s changing the way we live and work.
Peter Nowak reports on this in his article We live inside the machine now. Computing is now no longer done primarily on computers. The replacements are portable devices, such as phones or tablets, or installations, like sensors, cameras, or voice activated commands. As a result, “connected computing power is flowing into the world around us” in a way that Nowak compares the force from the Star Wars movies. Technology now floats around us, elusive and almost magical; think of the internet for the clearest example.
Of course, the use of a device like a phone limits the mystical nature of this omniscient presence. Devices are clumsy, and they require a lot of physical attention. Sergey Brin recently raised this point in a controversial statement when promoting Google Glass. He said that phones are “emasculating” because they require the user to bend his or her body to it. Technologies such as AR glasses are increasingly moving towards hands free, motion activated, and intangible applications. They seek to augment reality by limiting the intrusiveness of machines.
These innovations make technology more intuitive and user-friendly, but they also come with side effects. Being accessible at any time by phone or internet is helpful, but it also extends working hours because “employees are always reachable.” The result is that home and work blend into one another. It is expected, even if it is not required, that employees will take their phones and laptops on vacation.
This is not a new problem, and the phenomenon of addictions to Facebook and “crackberries” (uncontrollable BlackBerry use) are well documented. Some companies are preventing work distraction through firewalls. Others are trying to prevent burnout by limiting the time that employees spend working overtime. For instance, in 2012 Volkswagon promised to turn off e-mail on BlackBerries after hours.
But, how can ubiquitous computing, which doesn’t rely on devices, be turned off? If reality becomes alternate reality, how does one get away from the force? After work burnouts from overexposure, and the security risks inherent in mobile device use and cloud computing, are two obvious impacts of ubiquitous computing on public sector workplaces.
On a larger scale, ubiquitous computing also changes how citizens in general expect to interact with data. Ubiquitous computing means the end of certain barriers – between public and private, home and office, human and machine – that would disrupt the flow of the force.
How have you seen ubiquitous computing change your workplace? What changes can public servants expect to see in future practices? Let us know in the comments!