The Cell Phone: Exceeding our Expectations

By: Christine Peppler

The cell phone has permeated daily life. True to its intended purpose it has a primary role in staying connected to family and friends. As its design has become more complex and diverse functions added, the role of the cell phone in our lives has grown: keeping users informed via internet access and entertained through viewing video clips, playing games, and taking pictures. As it was designed to do, it has become well integrated into our routines.

It seems clear that the cell phone or its descendants are here to stay with us for quite some time as it continues to add convenient multitasking features that rapidly become indispensable for users. It seems likely that using a cell phone in lieu of a credit card, rather than a separate GPS device, or instead of an MP3 player is not far ahead. The future of stand alone cameras and camcorders also appears somewhat dimmed by the constantly upgraded abilities of the device. It is even possible that the cell phone will seriously encroach on the realm of the personal PC. With its portability and lower cost, it is used more frequently than PCs to browse the web in many countries and could potentially do the same in the US.

However, the role of the cell phone in the future may be even larger; larger than its designers even imagined.

The cell phone is a powerful device because of its portability and the number of them scattered across the globe. As it has picked up internet capabilities and video capture, it has the ability to record and dispense information rapidly. Every cell phone owner now has the potential of recording the events they observe and sharing that information almost immediately with audiences practically anywhere on the planet.

The world of law enforcement, for instance, is not one in which the designers of the cell phone probably anticipated their creations would venture. However, incidents in recent years have pointed out the unique qualifications of a cell phone to play a role in crime prevention and investigation. The image capture and texting capabilities have been particularly useful.

The world has had its first view of disasters, accidents, and alerts to crimes in progress, such as hostage situations, thanks to these devices. In addition, the cell phone is capable of providing a record of more detailed information than is often available through eye witnesses alone. The information offered by a cell phone in the right place at the right time has been so useful that some authorities are hoping to upgrade the 911 system to accept their video images directly.

Another unexpected stage for the cell phone is entertainment. Certainly designers purposely added viewing capabilities but the potential role of cell phones in creating photographic and film documentaries and entertainment was not likely envisioned originally. In conjunction with the internet and the growing popularity of "user generated content", the photography and video images from cell phones have found their way onto the national and international stage providing content for purposes as diverse as entertainment, education, editorial comment, and news. The landscape and direction of the internet has been altered based on the popularity of sites such as Flickr and other user generated content sites which thrive on submissions that are, in part, generated by cell phones.

Even the older medium of television may experience the infiltration of the cell phone. With stations such as Current TV which provides 30% of its programming based on user generated content, it is likely that the cell phone will be used to provide news and documentary shorts created by producer/viewers who have cell phones readily at their disposal. Certainly the cell phone medium could offer a much different and innovative type of programming by providing a more immediate and unbiased representation of events.

With roles emerging in law enforcement, emergency response, and the creation of entertainment, education, and news pieces, the role of the cell phone appears to be advancing while designers and the rest of the world try to keep up. It appears that the capabilities of the future cell phone may be directed by the device itself and its natural evolution.

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