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Summary:

These days, we want to carry the contents of our homes with us wherever we go. Books, music, videos…they all represent the proverbial hearth. Of course, thanks to the availability of cheap wireless connections, we are getting rid of another fixture in our homes: the landline phone. Every quarter, there are roughly 3 million fewer landline phones. Now, a few changes of clothes and a computer, and suddenly home is not where the heart is, but where there’s a connection.

kindle21On my way back from India, cooped up in a big tube flying at super speeds over Eurasian skies, I really missed having something to read. As Matt lost himself in a Seth Godin piece on his Kindle, I was reduced to watching old episodes of “Numbers” on my laptop, which I had left pretty much untouched throughout most of the trip. I wished desperately that I had brought one of those e-readers with me. Ironically enough, Amazon released the new and improved version of the Kindle today, one day after I returned. The Kindle, of course, like other popular gadgets such as the iPod and iPhone, is part of a larger trend brought on by the digitization of, well, everything.

Taking Our Home To Go

These days, we want to carry the contents of our homes with us wherever we go. Photos, once housed in beautiful frames and curated in albums, are now stuffed into our iPhones, and our relationships are nurtured on social networks via electronic address books from anywhere on the planet. I know Coltrane, Miles, Dizzy, Ella and Thievery all come for a walk with me whenever I pull the door behind me. Thanks to the rise of place-shifting and devices such as Sling Media’s SlingBox, even my television travels with me. And when that’s not possible, I just buy and download shows from either Amazon or Apple. I even took my favorite television show, “Criminal Minds,” for a ride across the country (or rather, the planet) last week.

Now I want to carry all my books with me, too.

Books, music, videos…they all represent the proverbial hearth. My library, easy chair and music system have long constituted what I considered home. But over the past few years, that has started to change — whether it’s just me or the new human condition, I’m not sure. I think it’s a bit of both. Thanks to the availability of cheap wireless connections, we are getting rid of another fixture in our homes: the landline phone. Every quarter, there are roughly 3 million fewer landline phones. A few changes of clothes and a computer, and suddenly home is not where the heart is, but where there’s a connection.

The Big Societal Shift 

This is part of a societal change I wrote about in a column for Business 2.0 about the concept of life streams, driven primarily by the rise of ever-pervasive Internet connectivity. My argument was that since humans have an overwhelming need to interact with one another, in this new always-on, increasingly connected society, we would want to mimic our offline interactions online. Instead of using connectivity to just communicate in real time, the world would transition to interacting in real time. It would be a way to share your life with those close to you, no matter how far away. Leisa Reichelt, a smart digital ethnographer, calls it ambient intimacy.

The companies that seem to have grasped this notion most effectively are Amazon, Apple and Google. Some startups have glommed onto this shift as well — for example Qik, Kyte and others, though I hardly think they are the answer. Rather the answer lies with Facebook and to some extent, FriendFeed, both of which are promoting the concept of news feeds of our lives. About three years ago, over a cup of coffee, Narendra Rocherolle, co-founder of Webshots and more recently 30 Boxes, showed me a feature known as the news feed. It was a way to collate information from one’s social network (calendar), and marry it to Flickr photos and other such information. It was essentially Facebook’s News Feed. It was so powerful and so obvious to me, especially considering that I was already dealing with information overload

A Once In a Century Change  

Fast-forward three years, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is proclaiming that his service represents a once-in-100-years kind of media shift. Despite the derision such a comment was met with by most people, I think he is quite right (though Facebook’s first implementation of Beacon was as wrong as Botox injections are for a 75-year-old). By turning its news feed into a newspaper for our social life — one that is updated constantly — it makes us feel like we’re in touch with our friends, family and other people we consider important in our lives.

With more than 175 million people signed up across the planet, Facebook in many ways has started to resemble our real-life social networks. On my trip to India, sitting in a Barista coffee shop with Wi-Fi, the Facebook app on my iPod Touch allowed me to keep up with everyone on my network. My BlackBerry Facebook App allowed me to post status updates and photos to the service as I traipsed around Delhi. Just like my iPod lets me carry my music library with me, Facebook brings with me my entire social life. All I need is a connection.

At 35,000 feet in the sky, there is no connection (just yet). But as long as you have a Kindle, who cares?

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  1. francinehardaway Thursday, February 26, 2009

    t’s exactly when I fell in love with my Kindle–on the trip to India. I now have everything either in the Cloud, on my phone, or on the Kindla. So could I be homeless and happy? mmmmmm…not quite. Gotta add that down quilt.

  2. Om – just curious – are you missing the iPhone much? Particularly after this trip? The network just HAS to get better – right? I want one bad….but still need to make calls!

  3. I have to respectfully disagree. I think it’s actually work we are bringing with us, not home. The rest I agree with. In other words, replace the word hearth/home with WORK, and I agree. And I agree that anyplace there is a wireless connection is work.

    Home is the opposite of that!

  4. You forgot Shortcovers. Its a service that enables you to buy and load ebooks onto the device you likely already own — iphone, blackberry, etc. Its very, very cool.

  5. Chris

    Are you an employee of Shortcovers? Just checking!

    I know they just came out of stealth today and not sure if everyone knows how cool they are…. I had a rough time trying to get it to work and the content is scant. So no they are not cool.

  6. @HSK

    Actually the Blackberry 8900 did hold up admirably and was much more productive on the road. I missed the ease of use of iPhone when it came to surfing and Facebook.

  7. @Victor

    I think what you are saying -taking a WORK centric view – is valid if you look in the rear view mirror. I think what I am saying is going to be more relevant in the future. If you think about the disruption caused by the current economic crisis, you will see that the definition of work is going to change. Their will be much greater fluidity in our lives in decades to come.

  8. I have to disagree with you on facebook. First of all its not earth shattering technology but it makes easy for lazy people to get connected with near and dear. I have seen many not updating their profile on a regular basis. The moment the updates stop on regular basis, there is no point in looking at the facebook.
    I remember the days of instant messaging, people just loved it . Now I see all my buddies either in the stealth mode or not logged in at all.

    Having said that , I know few who are diligent about communicating their updates. All the social networks are useful only if people are willing to spend most of the their time updating their profiles.

    On the ipods and Kindle , you are absolutely right. They are powerful and let you access your information from anywhere in the world you have internet.

  9. Hope you get your Kindle, Om. However, you have the privilege of living in the US, where the Kindle’s mobile network connection works and you can buy and download your books as you please. But what about the rest of the world? If I buy the somewhat pricey Kindle II(which includes the mobile data subscription), will it work outside the US? Can it download over WiFi or off a computer? r

  10. When can we expect things(devices) like Kindle to truly arrive in India… i gues its a long wait.

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  12. Even if you’re not gadding about the world, the “connection” is the umbilical to the rest of the world.

    Yesterday – for about 3 hours I had no Internet connection. My ancient Surfboard cable modem – which came in the door when Comcast bought TCI and cable broadband finally arrived in northern New Mexico – dropped dead.

    Yes, I had DirecTV for incoming mass media and news; but, no access to all the Web sites I rely on for what’s going on throughout the world. And NO possibility of getting my heartfelt personal opinions and analysis back out to the six people who might care what I have to say.

    Phew! Big sigh of relief after I dashed to the nearest Big Box and bought a new modem – activated it with Comcast – and rejoined the rest of the world. Even though I only [usually] drive to town once a week for groceries.

  13. Virtual Web Symphony Friday, February 27, 2009

    Om, you are probably one of the senior bloggers on the circuit. Having traveled widely and blogged on all technology issues, don’t you think reliance on social networking sites is harming our younger generation? You probably one of the very few balanced persons, can handle the onslaught of information on to your life but just think of young kids who are so addicted to Facebook, MySpace and other social sites that they have stopped living physically in this world. I am not sure about what is happening in US but in Delhi defintely, children who are in their teens have become recluse and inward looking typos. So touch these behavioral issues as well in your blog.

  14. @ Virtual Web Symphony:

    I think social networks are like any scientific inventions, totally depends on the usage and control.

  15. Om,

    after all, we are what we carry with us…

    Omnia Mea Mecum Porto

    -rohit

    1. @rohit, nicely said.

      @Eideard and here i thought i was an addict

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  17. I wish someone could do a Facebook to email.

    Is there anyone beyond Xobni and Xoopit on the tapping-the-social-graph-from-email story. And the two are old news now. And Xobni has stopped responding to any Qs about when they will go beyond Outllok, specially TB. And Xoopit is still webmail, not desktop.

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  26. Social Media Evangelist Saturday, May 23, 2009

    I believe our generation is lowly but firmly turning more inwards. If I start counting my friends today, there will be about 12-15 good one, and most of these are outside India, whom I have never met!!

    Contrast this with the time I was in college, we had a similar group-about 15- and we used to meet daily outside the cigarettes shop. Now we meet around the water coolers on social sites. We waited eagerly for magazines after finishing the monthly edition with 2 days, now we sit before a monitor and read them there! Life has changed drastically but somewhere deep down I feel it is for no good!

    Manish Pahuja

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