The Revolution Won't be Phoned Home

Today on GigaOm, Om Malik reports on the speculation around Google’s entry into the phone device market. My head is spinning. At the heart of it, we’re still using the word “phone.” Same word going back to when Alexander Graham Bell said, “Mr. Watson, come here” and Watson had to put down the receiver to follow the order. I strongly believe that it’s the web worker that will be at the forefront of the movement to change the paradigm. Entry into this new era is going to be too expensive and time consuming for the casual tech enthusiast or average grandma to be the early adopter. Those of us who earn a living off of our mobility are going to be the ones to get the job done for everyone else, literally.

Remember when a phone was a static device that allowed people to communcate between locations? Not much more than two kids in a treehouse holding cups to their ears with string running in between. Think about the early answering machine messages: “Hello, No one can come to the phone right now because the phone is sitting in an empty house and we’re off who knows where. If we knew it was ringing we’d probably be talking to you, so at the tone….” Your phone number defined your address, it said nothing about you.

Now your “phone number” is not just about where the phone is. It’s about where you are. You may be in the same place you get your snail mail. You may be halfway around the world. It doesn’t matter. “Hello, you’ve reached Judi Sohn and you have no idea where she is, do you? Right now she’s probably well aware that you’re trying to reach her but she’s making a conscious choice to present you with this automated greeting instead of talking to you, so at the tone…” Our home phone service is through Vonage. I live in New Jersey, my office is in Washington, DC. I have a virtual number in the 202 area code that rings on my phone here. An area code is simply the expectation of where you’re calling, it’s no longer the reality. Anyone who calls tech support of a major company using what appears to be a number in the United States and ends up talking to India knows that to be true.

So now that our “phone” number is no longer dependent on the physical location of the device and a series of numbers which define that location, the market is open for Google, Skype, Vonage and every other VOIP wannabe to redefine communications with our help.

Anyone else remember paying $12-24 per hour for Compuserve? It was either that, or you were offline and unable to communicate with colleagues who were also paying half the national debt for Compuserve. Remember when a single domain name was $100 or more to register, and corporations did it anyway? Isn’t the day coming when we’re going to tell our grandchildren, “I remember when I paid $90 per month for my cell phone service…$40 to get online and get email and websites and the rest to make phone calls…and that was just for one phone number! Let me tell you how much I paid to initiate a single communication over a regular phone call from home to Great Grandma in New York…” and they’ll look at us with awe and amazement. Then you’ll tell them that to call someone, you had to remember an arcane series of digits that had no relation to the person on the other end, along the lines of your old 754202,10 CompuServe address and they’ll ask you what it was like to live with dinosaurs.

Our business cards are full of all the different ways we can be reached that are mostly location-based…voice, fax, cell phone, email, AIM, Skype, MSN, carrier pidgeon…. I see the day coming where our cards will simply be our names, what we want people to know about us and what we do, and our single unique, personal universal address that let’s us choose for ourselves where, how and how often we receive our communications. It will no longer be about the fixed location, or the demands of the device or technology we use.

Right now, we’re not even close to that no matter how many headllines we read on the tech sites that make it sound like we’ll be doing this next week. Even though a Google phone is likely imminent and who knows what Apple and others have up their sleeves, I still have to explain to 95% of the people I deal with how it’s possible that they can call a number in a Washington, DC area code and I answer in New Jersey. Mr. Watson come here, indeed.

As we web workers use and explore these new technologies to communicate with each other, and that mobile collaboration grows our businesses while everyone else is still adding friends to their MySpace pages, the rest of society will eventually catch up. I’m sure of it.


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