From the Continental Divide to the Digital Divide

This winter, I went skiing for the first time in a long time. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could still do it and with relatively little pain involved. I was also surprised at the lack of availability of trail maps on the mountain. There were no stations with stacks of folded paper maps; instead, a sign invited skiers to text a number from their phones. When I did so, a link to the trail map was texted to me.

I realize this may not be shocking to some of you. It’s a fairly simple application, but it made me start thinking about all the mobility applications that have come about in such a short period of time. The first smartphone didn’t appear until 2008 and in just a few years there seem to be countless “apps,” a word now embedded in our language.

As a result of mobile phones, people have changed how they live and work. It’s amazing that one device allows you to call, text and email, keep your address book and calendars, buy and listen to music, take and share photos, play video games, check your stocks, track how far you just ran, order food for pick-up, and so on.

According to panelists who participated in a recent discussion, “Digital Megatrends” in the ‘new normal’ economy,” hosted by Oxford Economics, mobile devices and applications have become so popular they are helping to close the digital divide. Cell numbers are the most stable address that some people have. One panelist cited the example of a classroom of high school students. All the students had smartphones even though a large percentage of them were from families that could barely afford food and clothing. I’m sure most of us would allocate a place for our mobile phones in Maslow’s hierarchy, but putting it equal to or above basic necessities? To me that speaks volumes about the future of mobile broadband.

And now we have tablet PCs and the promise of mobile video calling. With these new devices, users can leapfrog older technologies altogether. It makes me wonder what new products and applications will be available in another five years. If only they could come up with an application to make skiing cheaper…

Have you seen or experienced something that illustrates how mobile devices are closing the digital divide?

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