I work in telecoms (the obvious home for classicists) and was recently at the Mobile World Congress expo in Barcelona, where the latest and greatest developments were being demonstrated. My personal favourites were the waterproof paper and the laser keyboard, but there was a lot of noise around the trend of AR – Augmented Reality.
This means a ton of different things, but mostly overlaying what you see on a screen with additional information. Currently you can look at a street through your camera phone and get info on the buildings (like ‘this is a restaurant, here’s the menu, here’s the number to call for reservations’). I spoke to someone at Ford who was talking about HUDs on cars combined with AR, and that by 2020 he expected to see an AR-HUD on most car windscreens showing satnav on the road, minimum stopping distances from the car ahead (and what speed that car is travelling at), speed camera warnings, turn-off warnings, etc etc.
This all sounds pretty cool (although I’d have thought that much white noise on the windscreen might be a bit dangerous? But I’m not a driver so not confident of my ground there), but it did slightly leave me wondering – are we advancing the technology because there’s a demand for it, or because we can?
It’s the same thing that the tablet threw up. Even the phone operators didn’t know what it was for – one of the most popular speeches I ever put together was a bunch of people who use tablets in their businesses, because that let the operators hear where their product fit in the market. Mental. They just made it because Apple did, and people bought them.
Why did people buy them? This got asked in the conference as well. One of the delegates, who had just got one, replied with ‘it’s the nicest thing you don’t need’. Do we really want this stuff? Or do we buy it because they tell us we want it, and it’s shiny?
I don’t have a tablet. I have played with one at various events and decided that it is ultimately fairly pointless. My phone, laptop and TV will do each task better. But everyone who does have one seems to adore them. So – and I’m genuinely curious about this – what is it about advanced technology in general, and tablets in particular, that is so attractive?