I live in Palo Alto, considered by some to be the tech hub of the world that also happens to have amazing weather, but its cell coverage is ridiculously spotty. Sweden on the other hand, where I grew up, has outstanding cell coverage but the weather is nothing to write home about. In December, Stockholm has about 6 hours of daylight and 18 hours of darkness. I’m still trying to find a place to live that has the weather I crave, alongside the connectivity I need to get work done.
Everyone in the media and technology industries is talking about the era of total connectivity that we’re currently living in. However, when I talk to real people they are constantly irritated by tools that rely on the need for connectivity, thus rendering them useless on an airplane, or in an area of bad coverage. Even with the FCC moving towards allowing the use of mobile data while in flight, actual implementation of the new guidelines will take time, and it’s still up to the discretion of the airline whether or not you can use your device.
There can be a downside to constant connectivity. In flight cell phone calls are one example – with the access of data, comes the access so that Chatty Cathy in the seat next to you can talk to her best friend for three hours while in flight. There are limits to how much my noise canceling headphones can actually block!
Constant connectivity is a source of multi-tasking, which I addressed in a post last month. When we’re always connected, there is a tendency to pay more attention to activities and interactions that are taking place on a mobile device, instead of those taking place in the actual room where you’re sitting. This decreases productivity in the workforce, as constant interruptions drag down the quality of work taking place, and strain employee relationships as people are put second to devices.
So the real question this issue poses is – do we continue pushing only connected devices and solutions, in the hopes that eventually the cell coverage will catch up with our mobile phones? Or do we start introducing solutions that can be used online and offline, so that no matter where a user is, they can be productive in some form or another.
From my perspective, we need to build products that are useful on or offline, so that the question of ‘do I have connectivity?’ never becomes an impediment to productivity. Solutions should have a variety of options so that if a business user knows that they’ll be out of connectivity for a few hours, they can download necessary content to work on, and then upload new versions of documents or data to whatever repository they prefer once they again have connectivity.
I regularly choose to go offline to get projects done, so that I’m not bothered by the interruptions that often plague me when I am connected to a network. More solutions should provide this option to workers, so that they can be productive no matter where and how they choose to work.
As for the question of what happens when you drop out of coverage when driving down El Camino Real in Palo Alto, that’s simple. We need more cell towers to support the millions of us living and working in the area, but to make this a reality, Palo Alto residents are going to need to accept that these towers may become part of the landscape of our area.