“Power Up” – A new social network?

I have been on the road a lot these days and I do see a lot many interesting things. Airports are like busy bus stations, except that here, we are dealing with airplanes here. Everyone is going somewhere and things are busy all around.

A cursory look around a busy airport reveals a lot of people interacting with mobile devices. I travel paperless these days and love the fact that I can get my boarding pass sent to me. When gates are re-allocated or when my flight is delayed, I get either an email or an SMS (text as they call it here in the US).

In the airplane, as one walks the aisle, I think on average each row has at least one person with a tablet, be it a Kindle, Galaxy Tab or iPad of various form factors. Kids are playing games, parents are watching a movie or someone is reading a book. It is pretty striking. Just 5 years ago, the scenario was totally different. Now, folks are consuming content of sorts on their mobile devices.

For the business traveler, the laptop is still the device of choice for work – although, I see this changing. Some companies like Acer and Samsung have devices that are basically fully functional PCs (laptops), but the screen detaches from the body to become tablet, which is a different form factor with a different usage model (content consumption vs creation). I would love to lay my hands on such a device, as I typically, carry my laptop and my tablet – and would like them to merge (it is already happening).

Nothing earth shattering about these observations – right?

Now, as you may have surmised, I am an advocate of mobile. I love the myriad ways this is  impacting us. The benefits of mobile technology are far too many to enumerate here. But, when people use this technology to avoid “human” interaction/contact, I have a problem with that. I believe that slowly and steadily our behaviors are changing as a consequence of technology. And the most visible technology that we tend to interact on a daily basis is the mobile technology.

People are so engrossed with their devices these days, that they barely look up. I have seen kids go to school..just looking down at their video games and not bothering to even look to see where they are going. Adults are no less. People keep glancing at their mobile phones ever so frequently, lest the miss something important.  I wonder what that could be. Perhaps, an important missive or maybe a news update or the stock market or basketball scores – who knows? I have also noticed that mobile phones help people avoid “other” people. Now, that is an oxymoron for sure. Mobile phones are supposed to enhance connectivity – right? But then, how come when you walk down a corridor and see a bunch of colleagues or your most favorite colleague coming the other way….you glance at the palm of your hand wherein you hold this wonderful ‘people-avoider’ device and continue to interact with that device until you have passed them? Or better still, you pretend to take an important call at that very moment. I have seen this scenario play out all too often. In elevators, people do not want to glance up and say hello. In meetings, most people are either furtively or blatantly interacting with their mobile phones, much to the chagrin of the presenter. And, in conferences, a lot of blue screen light up the audience section and I wonder if people are even listening to the speaker.

And, I suspect, this behavior is going to get worse. Less eye contact is going to become the norm. Now, does this spell doom for us a civilization? Heavens, no. But, if we, the broad population, begin to prefer interacting with devices more than people, then, I do believe that over time, we will lose touch with other.

But there is a savior. And this is where, my keen observation comes into play :). I have noticed that at the airport, if there is one thing that everyone is looking for apart from restrooms that is, it happens to be “Power”. Power, that will juice up their mobile devices, be it the ubiquitous phone, or a laptop or a tablet.  And this is where I meet some interesting people. People, whom I would have never met otherwise. I have seen this scenario play out in coffee shops as well. These folks are friendly and nice…and we are connected in the sense that we are all looking for the same thing – “Power”. Pleasantries, that exchanged at these charging stations, often turn into full blown conversations. Perhaps, there is a friendship out there waiting to happen. And who knows, for some, they could find love at these charging stations.

Sometimes, I have walked the airport with total strangers looking for a power outlet that could hold my power adapter. Why? Because, most power outlets are totally worn out! It is fun! Real interaction with real people. And when, we find that fountain, we do let other weary travelers know of this secret oasis and in many cases, you can literally see their faces light up. Now, that is priceless.

This, I submit to you, is the new “social network”. Granted, you will not connect to a million people here. But the few you may encounter here could perhaps make you smile and for some brief moments lift us from our eternal drudgery or perhaps, even add a little meaning to our lives.

Friends, the humble power outlet is bringing people together. And for that reason alone, I hope that innovations in the Li-ion or Li-Amide battery technologies are slow to catch on, allowing for our phones to discharge more often and consequently allowing us to meet new and interesting people at…… “The Power Outlets”…..

Comments or thoughts?  Keep your love coming. I appreciate it!

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