Interconnected advances

When Captain Kirk first flipped open his communicator in 1966, millions of people felt that they were witnessing a vision of the future. And not merely a fictional future, but one that might some day be possible in our own lives. They were right, but as usual there was much more to the story than just a cool gadget.

This week, while I have been attending the SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference, I’ve stayed at my cousin’s house, which is about a fifteen to twenty minute car ride away from the conference site, depending on traffic. It’s a total win, because my cousin and I really enjoy hanging out, and we’ve had great conversations while I’ve been here.

This is the first year I haven’t stayed at some stupid impersonal conference hotel. And it was made possible by Captain Kirk’s communicator — the real life version, together with all the other things that became possible when that communicator entered real life.

Because the real life version of that communicator — the SmartPhone — isn’t just an isolated gadget. It’s connected to map programs, to text messaging, to methods for automated payment, to services such as Lyft. An entire economic ecosystem has grown up around the device that everyone has in their pocket or on the dashboard of their car.

Your driver no longer needs to have expert knowledge of her route. And you can quickly summon that driver from pretty much any location at any time. At the end of your ride, you no longer need to fumble for change.

Before all of these interconnected advances, it would have been completely impractical for me to stay with my cousin during this conference. My colleagues who stayed at an Airbnb this week — which is far less expensive than a hotel room — had a similar experience of freedom.

Over the course of the next decade, as we start to migrate to wearables, the changes to our economic ecosystem will be even more profound and far-reaching. Whatever happens, it probably won’t be good for hotels. But it might be very good for other services that will help us in our daily lives — including some we haven’t even begun to think of.

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