Thanksgiving gratitude: Seeing the good in mobile

For all the good mobile has done, it seems lately it's more vilified than ever. Have we lost sight of all the good mobile does for us, especially in our work lives?

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Search “mobile zombies” on the web and you’ll find upwards of 25 million hits, a good majority of which are articles, memes and blogs complaining about the continued uprising of the new zombie apocalypse (a generation of humans so attached to the screens of their mobile devices that they barely register a heartbeat). Studies have cropped up over the last few years that delve deeply into the impact of mobile devices on the physical and mental health of individuals who have more of a relationship with their mobile phone than other humans. You’ll also find photo portfolios of groups of people together -- separately looking at their phones instead of each other -- as well as art projects highlighting the absurd ways in which we live with our new, constant (mobile) companions.

For all the complaining about the dangers and horrors of mobile zombies, I think we’ve lost sight of the incredible value that mobile has brought to the lives of so many people, in so many different ways. So, in true “selfie” form, I’ve included a list of all the things that mobile has done for me -- or enabled me to do -- that would have been difficult or impossible without it. While our lives are wonderfully unique, making this exercise personal means that I am not spouting off the latest industry line or corporate position, but rather reflecting on mobile’s impact both inside and outside the corporate walls.

My social life

While I’m not known to most as a “social animal,” my life does include a big family (my own as well as the larger set of family and friends into which my wife and I were both born). Mobile allows me to share the moments I capture with my “circle,” enabling my father and aunts to see the kids growing and the accomplishments they’ve achieved.

Mobile also eliminates the worry and frustration of getting to someone or someplace, whether to meet for dinner or get to a soccer match; it can guide you wherever you’re going, find the best route and help you stay in touch with those who are waiting for you.

And with the advent of mobile-enabled users around the world, I get perspectives of lives and events I would never have encountered before, giving me a broader and more global view of the world. Watching my dear friends in India celebrate Dawali and my former colleagues post updates on their travels, or seeing how the lives of co-workers are affected by events around the world, all of these are provided without a filter created by journalism or television programming because of the ubiquity of mobile today.

My individual life

Mobile often gets that stigma of being an “anti-social infernal device.” (Think of the moment you walk into a room and everyone is looking at their phone.) In my life, when I have to bring one of my kids to a doctor’s appointment or wait for an auto repair, the mobile device in my hand gives me immediate access to my reading material, allowing me to expand my mind rather than stare at a wall or flip through an old magazine. I have everything I want to expand my horizons. Mobile also helps me monitor my health and well-being, research information about my hobbies and passions and find ways to better myself.

My commerce life

We are all consumers in one way or another, each of us conducting multiple transactions every day. Mobile helps me execute on transactions securely, either through an app or the payment system built into the device. It allows me align with brands and companies I want to support, and helps those companies reward me for my loyalty.

Mobile also allows me to comparison shop to ensure I am paying the appropriate amount for what I buy. Finally, mobile helps me track my spending to reign me in in real time to ensure I do not blow out my budget.

My work life

For me, the biggest impact has been in my work life; more importantly, on how my work and personal life can be balanced throughout the day. 

  1. Mobile place shifting: The “office” can now truly be anywhere with the benefits of a strong and nearly ubiquitous data network and powerful device(s) in our hands. The idea of being chained to a desk completely dissolves. Far beyond taking calls on the road, the concept of being able to conduct business through online meeting apps and working together -- whether separated by 100 or 10,000 miles -- using collaboration software means work can be conducted from anywhere. For me, the true value in this means that I can finish a presentation from home rather than at the office, allowing me to beat traffic in order to get to my kids’ school conference. It means I can sit in my car and host a meeting via video conference at the soccer field and jump out when it’s done to catch the end of the game. It means everything I need from the office is with me at all times; business can continue even if I am not in the office physically.
  2. Mobile time shifting: In the world today, very few businesses operate in a vacuum without requirements to interact with people in other time zones. Whether it’s other offices, contractors, customers or vendors, the world is no longer restricted to businesses and people who live and operate within the same region, let alone the same continent. Mobile allows for people in these dispersed places to still work and collaborate together outside the boundaries of “9 to 5.” I often need to schedule or participate in meetings in the early morning or late evening in order to get work done; with mobile I can do that because there is no office phone or strict office working hours. This means I can take my 8-10 hour work day and stretch it across 15 or 16 hours, and in between I can participate in the rest of my life.
  3. Mobile high availability: Finally, mobile allows me to be available when I am needed -- for a response, review or mentoring of a colleague. The value of being able to answer a question in near real-time -- and keep the rest of the business moving -- far outweighs the minor inconvenience of interruptions during the day or evening. What once might have taken 24 hours to wait for an email response can now be completed in minutes; what might have required long and complex email discussions can often now be accomplished in a real-time chat.

While there are definitely problems that have cropped up with mobile -- too many games played, interruptions, memes and short notations, food posts and general information shared -- the question remains: Without it, where would we be? For me, I would know less about the world, less about my family and friends and my kids’ activities, and I would quickly grow weary of a work life tied down in both time and place.  

The freedom and flexibility offered by mobile today should be embraced and celebrated -- almost a decade of work from hardware and software developers, experience designers, advertisers, marketing teams, researchers, industry analysts and, of course, us bloggers -- means many of us can now prepare for and celebrate our holidays and our traditions with a little less time spent "behind the desk" and a little more time spent with family and friends. 

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