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Hub Culture Salon Barcelona: The Future of Mobile

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20th Sep 2008

Hub Culture gathered a series of playas in the mobile industry for another Salon discussion, this time on the heels of the 2007 3GSM World Congress. Hosted at the elegant Can Travi Nou, a 17th century farmhouse featuring Catalan cuisine in a privileged Barcelona location, a lively discussion ensued with an animated group of guests. Who was there?

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LG's Prada phone, a sleek piece of kit
Omar Green, Appleseed Networks

Zoe Lawrence, Hill & Knowlton

Nick Arauz, Xipto

Victor Wilson, Chiquita

Trevor Shonfeld, Roundpoint

Debbie, a stage actress and our "consumer"

Meric Ekmekci, Internet Holdings

Be afraid. If one is to listen to the group of people gathered around this table, the world is in for a very scary future. Email is for old people. Privacy is over. You will be monitored. Political unrest will flare.

Mobiles will force big changes in the way we see relationships, democracy, and neighborhoods.

While cagey and vague, Omar opened the conversation with his status as a "rogue entrepreneur" within a major tech organization charged with bringing best-in-class ideas back to the company. At night, his stealth company Appleseed Networks is "building the bladerunner systems before anybody else". Constant surveillance may happen, but he forsees the emergence of anticipatory devices that actually try to understand their owners based on their previous actions. Imagine a phone that wakes you up, tells you where to go, orders you breakfast and reminds you to pay your taxes, then tells the tax authorities if you don't.

As technology continues to become "smarter" and "deeper", Omar forsees the final convergence of the many forms of data collection that already exist into a form of supra-information capability. Not only is the US NSA and the military-industrial complex working on just that kind of synchronicity, companies from VISA to Vodafone are aggregating and implementing information that paint a complete description of how we move, shop, travel and consume. As the mobile phone dominates even further and m-money (mobile money) take root, everything will be tracked, RFIDed and cross-referenced. And very soon.

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Sexy advertising boosts sales with fashionistas
Victor, who is with Chiquita in Honduras, outlined the way the mobile has changed the developing world and pointed to coming political change - he sees mobile as an exciting medium that solves problems in areas he lives in and offsets absence of a free press, democracy and institutionalized corruption in many places. The downside is relative cost. A handset in the developing world, while necessary, costs a very high percentage of the monthly cost of living for the world's poor.

A stage actress with a distaste for technology, Debbie offered a counterpoint to the tech led discussion... "Its about language," she said as she teased her plate of pork trotters. For her the mobile allows ease of communication in new ways, such as mobile social networking and IM, but the terminology of the mobile world is off-putting and often delays her adoption of new features.

Others in the group picked up an interesting philosophical point first raised by Debbie: that the mobile allows us to act and to communicate on a constant basis. In some ways it makes everyone an actor, because it helps us choose our communities, interactions and the basis of them, allowing us to present social facades of our choosing.

Meric and Zoe had other great inputs, from how mobile phones are driving access to capital, why social networks work: because they "codify" human behavior, and this interesting observation: that it is now easier to meet and talk to a stranger half way around the world than to talk to your own neighbor. Well noted among the group who live in Istanbul, Geneva, San Francisco, London, New York and Tegucigalpa.

Trevor and Nick ruminated on the "hive mind" and the perceived wisdom that the wisdom of crowds is better than the wisdom of individuals. It's a complicated question with differing views - Nick felt that yes, crowd wisdom is linked to democracy and thus must be smarter, while some others disagreed. Trevor focused on more practical matters - like the fact that 2/3 of the world remains unconnected, and 80% of the world is only on voice and text, not a smartphone. Then for that elite, he maintains "phones have the features, but owners don't use them... yet."

Nick resonated on the political change theme. His mobile advertising firm, Xipto, recently launched innovative endorsing technology for individual users, and looks set to introduce more mobile endorsements into the phone ecosystem. But his views on political change are based on technology.

"What if you could vote where you spend time, in real time?" he asked. "If shareholders can eject CEOs from a company for slowing sales, why can't mobiles help citizens vote on local and regional politics to affect faster change?" Practical considerations not withstanding, an interesting thought.

On a nice note, Zoe handles the communications for LG and Prada, and she mentioned the phone we talked about earlier "really is a beautiful piece of kit". Having tested it at 3GSM, we concur.

For details on Hub Culture's upcoming Salons, email [email protected]