3: The Always-On Society

The author begins with the story of Dan Woolley, an individual trapped in a hotel lobby after an earthquake in Haiti, who used his iPhone as a survival tool: he was able to use the glow of the screen to see things nearby, the camera to get better surveillance of his surroundings, a first-ad app to tell him how to treat his injuries, and recorded messages to his family in case he didn't make it.

There are much less dramatic and more common ways in which people use their iPhone in a multitude of ways, each of which changes their behavior in a small way, but the compound effect of which can be astounding. The author lists a handful of the ways in which it used to add convenience to everyday life, as an essential resource while travelling, and even as a professional tool by doctors and soldiers.

The core capabilities of the device - camera, phone, internet connection, GPS, accelerometer, barcode scanner, etc. - grant it a set of basic capabilities that thousands of applications leverage in innovative ways.

In the material that follows, the author considers the current and potential application of the iPhone to education, healthcare, and law enforcement.

Education Rebooted

As a device that facilitates accessing, collecting, and transmitting information, the potential value of the iPhone to education is significant. While many educators have bemoaned cell phones as a distraction from education, it may instead be regarded as a valuable tool for education. Its ability to display text makes textbooks obsolete, and its ability to view recorded presentations, as questions, and receive answers may make the classroom environment obsolete for many subjects.

However, information alone is not the equivalent of education. If it were so, there would be no universities, but only libraries. The value of education is having an instructor, to act as a guide to the novice to find the information and to help them understand subjects they may not be able to fathom through independent study.

The author describes an experiment at Abilene Christian University ion which every student and professor was issued an iPhone, where it was used in various ways: the device was used to access textbooks and references, as a method of taking tests, giving students the ability to ask questions in lectures without social embarrassment, communicating outside of the classroom, finding their way around campus, etc. It is suggested that students using iPhone outperformed students who took the same courses without the devices.

Naturally, the drawback to this experiment was its tremendous expense, to both the student and the institution, to obtain the devices, pay for data plans, and develop and maintain a significant amount of custom software, which would make the use of iPhones difficult at a public college, and certainly out of the reach of secondary education, though ti may become less so as the market for devices and services increases and economies of scale reduce the price of the device and service.

The Doctor on Call

As the example at the beginning of the chapter demonstrated, the iPhone has the ability to serve as a mobile medic, providing first-aid information to individuals in emergency situations, but it also has a broader array of potential uses in the healthcare industry.

One example given is the ability of the iPhone camera to be used as a diagnostic instrument - being able to take images of injuries, and even of blood or tissue samples, and transmit them to medical experts far away from the location of the patient for analysis.

The iPhone can be used as a reference tool to store and access data, for such uses as enabling a patient's doctor to know what prescriptions he is currently taking, and identify any potentially dangerous interactions with additional drugs. The iPhone can also be used to collect and access a patient's complete medical record and transmit results between lab and physicians. It may be used for data collection in daily life - a diabetic patient can easily record and report his blood sugar levels, and the device can provide reminders about his insulin requirements and adjust them based on diet. With sufficient monitoring, it may be possible to diagnose disorders prior to the appearance of advanced symptoms.

The iPhone can also be the data collection and transmission component of a system that involves body sensors. One such sensor that fascinates the author is a contact lens that contains microelectronics that is capable of readng a wide range of vital statistics, given the physiology and chemistry of the human eye (pluse, blood pressure, and the levels of cholesterol, sodium, and glucose)

The Always-On Cop

Various applications currently exist for law enforcement's use of cell phones, and additional applications of the technology are currently in development to provide law enforcement officers a wealth of resources and information to support them in the field.

The cell phone, as a communication technology, overcomes some of the shortcomings of radio communications, namely criminals can tune into police frequency to monitor their activity and learn their patrol routes.

GPS technology in phones is accessible to law enforcement, and has been used to locate stolen phones, the victims of kidnapping, track the movements of criminals, and even communicate the location of officers back to headquarters without the need to transmit them over the air.

In Tasmania, offers have access to an app that enable them to take a picture of a vehicle's license plate and, within seconds, retrieve the registration information about the vehicle and its owner. If there are any outstanding warrants, GPS coordinates can be transmitted to dispatch a unit to the area.

Apps are under development to identify individuals in the field - through facial recognition or even a photograph of someone's hand to read their fingerprints. This enables law enforcement to access databases to ascertain the identity of an individual without having to arrest them and bring them into the station.

The downside, of course, is that such devices can be used to monitor the activities of innocent civilians, and there's quite some concern that the authorities might abuse the information available to them.

The Always-On Society

The examples above are just a few ways in which the iPhone has the potential to make significant impact on just three areas. When such capabilities are accessible to every profession, and every person in their civilian lives, it has the potential to be transformational on the large scale.