An unexpected confluence in information technology could be the best news for computer users since the invention of the graphical user interface. Thanks to advances in wireless networking, Web programming, and microchips for mobile devices, consumers have access (anytime and anywhere) to a world of fundamentally social applications. Instant messaging and Web logs (blogs) were among the first pure social-computing technologies, but things have gone much further.
Members of Flickr.com document their lives through photography, often uploading several pictures a day from their digital or phone-based cameras. They can annotate photos with pop-up notes, play games such as “Guess Where?”, and contribute to group albums. Meanwhile, Delicious, Rojo, Furl, and several other cutely named sites let surfers share commentary on the Web pages they’ve bookmarked. Then there’s Dodgeball, a friend-finding service recently acquired by Google. People text-message their locations to Dodgeball’s servers, which relay the information to the phones of friends.
The key ingredients in this new wave of computer-mediated communication: cell phones, laptops, Wi-Fi hot spots, cellular networks, and easy-to-use websites backed by powerful databases. So many people now carry Internet-enabled mobile devices that we need never be disconnected from our friends and colleagues or from the Web. That’s why TR senior editor Wade Roush suggests, on page 44, giving the phenomenon a new name: “continuous computing.”
We’ve known for a while that computers can make us more efficient. Now they’re giving global reach to individual voices and killing once and for all the idea that togetherness requires physical proximity. Those screens we stare at all day? They aren’t taking us away from our real lives. They’re finally becoming part of them.