On Location

Existing and emerging hardware and software trends have a profound impact on location. What I mean to say is that they have the potential to make the physical location of an individual irrelevant. Thanks to modern technology the outlines of this post were written on a portable computer in a Starbucks in Copenhagen in pure electrons, magically transferred to all my computers at home and at work and ultimately made accessible to you here no matter where you are in the world. All of this happened just before, from the same location, I got on a conference call with my ultra-portable computer (aka smartphone) joining participants from France, the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK. In doing all of these things my physical location did not matter. For what it's worth I could have been in Singapore or Sydney and would have been able to accomplish the very same things. Albeit with a much larger infusion of tea as timezones would have worked against me as far as the conference call is concerned.

Doesn't sound too spectacular? Ask yourself this: Would this have been possible twenty years ago? Ten years ago? No in the first case, to a certain degree in the second.

But OK, I'll concede that this may not have been a spectacular example. So let's take a step back and look at the larger picture.

In the early 1800's you were defined by your location. People rarely moved away from the town or village they were born in and if they did mostly ended up in close vicinity. The cost of being mobile was extremely high. If you left your family was left behind. So were your friends and the entire social network you had built so far. When you arrived at your destination you had to learn everything from scratch. Where to buy groceries, bread, the necessities of daily life. Maybe you even had to find out where and how to get a job, especially if you had come to a larger city. Most importantly you had to make new friends.

In subsequent decades keeping in touch with the people you left behind was made easier by advances in technology. Both telegraph and telephone made long distance communications easier and advances in transportations technology made it possible to visit your old home or have people visit you at your new one.

Still, if you left your hometown in the 1960's through the late 1980's and probably the early 1990's, depending on where in the (western) world you live, most of the ties you had were severed over time. And you still faced the issue that you had to learn your way around wherever you ended up and that you had to make new contacts.

Trend Effect
Real-time machine translation Reduced importance of native language
Plug computer (Raspberry Pi, Odroid) Reduced importance of size, location
Augmented reality Layer software over the physical world anywhere
3D printing Reduces Patent/Political restrictions on physical goods, 'Maker' culture
MOOCs Hyper-deflation of educational costs
Seasteading Facilitate emigration, reduce political constraints
Crowdfunding Reduced importance of VC, Banks, Publishers
Pharma Patent cliff Disruption of pharmaceutical industry
Bitcoin Reduced reliance on single reserve currency, Banks
Sequencing See your own genome without an MD prescription
Telepresence Robots, Drones Reduce importance of physical location
P2P Reduced reliance on central backbone
Blogs Reduced importance of national opinion journalism
Microblogs Reduced importance of network news outlets
Social Networks Friends are now independent of physical location
Laptops, smartphones, tablets Computation is now independent of location
Video Chat Reduced importance of physical location
Search engines, Ebooks, Wikipedia Access all information, anytime, (for free)
E-commerce Reduce importance of physical store location
Future and current/ongoing technological trends in favor of mobility, decentralization, and individual empowerment.

Today we're seeing a dramatic decrease in the cost of mobility. For a growing percentage of the global population, more of their friends life far outside walking distance, in many cases even in other countries. Software platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have in essence made our social network portable.

Looking at Facebook's Map Of The World what's mind-boggling for me is the number of direct connections between individuals in different countries and far-away cities. This increases the likelihood that where you go you may be part of a community.

Location Based Apps are a contributing factor to this as they make it a lot easier to navigate a new environment. Detailed maps with user annotations are at your disposal just as services such as Yelp! or Qype that make it easier for you to find locations you might want to visit or get answers to the question of where to find the best coffee place in Seattle.

Lastly there is the primacy of the programmable screen. Think about how many waking hours you spend in front of a screen attached to a programmable device or displaying the output of one. For those who fall in the category of 'Knowledge Workers' this is likely to be anywhere between 40 and 60 hours a week, not including leisure time.

Going back to my original example, I think it is simply amazing what we can do nowadays thanks to break-throughs in technology. Again you may laugh but I don't think we appreciate this enough. It's a little like everything is amazing and nobody's happy.

And here's one final thought: As our social and work lives start to gravitate around programmable devices would it be unthinkable that in the future we will find a community on-line and choose our location accordingly? Because where we are doesn't matter as much as what we do.

© 2013-2014 Henning Hoyer