Smart Phones: What Hath Babbage Wrought?

Dennis Faas's picture

Although often credited as the father of computing, Charles Babbage (author of the "analytic engine"), probably didn't envision anything like mobile computer access or smart phones. Today, however, a growing percentage of the population cannot do without mobile communications and Internet access in their day-to-day lives.

A recent study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project has found that 62 percent of Americans use mobile access to digital data or tools. Moreover, the same study found that most would have great difficulty in giving their gadgets up; the cell phone would be the hardest to forego, mobile Internet access the next most difficult, and 30 percent would find giving up their mobile email device difficult. (Source:

This increase in dependency on mobile communication and computing access is new. In 2002, users rated their landline and their television as most important with the Internet and cell phone tying for third.

What brought about the change? Certainly combining the Internet with the cell phone has made a large impact. A full 58 percent of Americans use their device for non-voice activities such as texting, photography, or email and 41 percent use their device for Internet access.

But some analysts also think a bigger change is a result of the iPhone introduction. They cite precedence of products such as Apple's Newton, the iPod, and now the iPhone. All of these products catalyzed large jumps in public demand. The Newton PDA was promptly followed by PalmPilots, the iPod by dozens of different digital music players, and increased interest in smart phones they see as a natural follower to the iPhone. (Source:

The trend toward mobility isn't going to change. With more than 2 billion mobile devices in use, we can expect a higher dependency on such devices. But that's a good thing, right?

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