Personal mobile ecosystems

While everyone is speaking about the benefits of remote work 1 I made the unfashionable choice of shifting from a job that was about 5 minutes bike ride from my home to a daily commuting route via train and underground that is sucking 3 hours out of each of my working days.

I’ve been relying on public transportation for my main commute routes since I was 14, so I have almost 15 years of observation about what people do while they’re on the move. Incredibly, I discovered that I lost track of the miscellaneous personal ecosystems.

Some people have and iPhone and an Android tablet — sometimes a very cheap one, but that does one job well enough, just as a video player, for example.

People with Windows phones exist. People still read bulky books and yet they have a super-thin smartphone in their pockets. Some people have Kindles but no smartphones. Some people use netbooks as portable media players. Some people still use big-sized, 10″ tablets despite bearing two messenger bags at once.

The man in the picture on the left holds two magazines, a book, and an iPhone. It’s not one of those days where you end up holding more things you can possibly handle: he holds these magazines, a book, and an iPhone each day, I know because I see him at the railroad station each morning. And the has a messenger bag too.

Despite a seemingly clumsy setup, he’s not alone: hundreds, thousands, millions of people each day use technology way outside the “silos narrative” that people are willing to stick to just one environment or technology platform — yes, people using Apple products are more likely to be locked-in within Apple’s ecosystem, as much as people using Android-based are, but there’s no rule of thumb, there’s no real technological barrier for preventing cross-platform usage 2.

And the non-existent silos regard form factors and overall devices choices too: the other man shown in the picture above didn’t seem troubled to use his 15″ laptop as an mp3 player, even in a crowded place as the underground at rush hour.

People still read bulky books, holding them with both hands, while trying not to fall off balance on the underground: wouldn’t be wiser to get a Kindle? 3

Looked through the eyes of someone who can observe how people use technologies on the move each and every day, I’d say that a future where we wear those technologies is quite distant4  — if not entirely unlikely.

My daily commuting observations show that people are willing to compromise and to sacrifice the optimal performance when the perceived experience of their personal mobile ecosystem is “good enough”.

  1.  I couldn’t agree more that avoiding commuting is a healthy choice, but remote work isn’t for everyone, even if someone is a knowledge worker (I’ll write something about that someday).
  2. In fact, I’m happily using both iOS and Android since last November, I still haven’t found a reason to switch back to the full Apple experience I was use to — nor to abandon it completely in favour of Android
  3. I still don’t own a Kindle. I made the vow of finishing all of my paper books before getting one
  4. Especially until someone won’t find anything better than the (smart)watch form-factor. I played with a Samsung Gear, and the user experience is as horrible as it gets.