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Portability in an Increasingly Augmented World

The time was, that a college or university campus was filled with people carrying bulky loads. Students were commonly seen with backpacks, filled with books, armloads of books, and other materials. Lecturers frequently had two, or even three bags of stuff, and it was not at all unusual to see one carrying a large cardboard box between lectures.

Learning was after all, a weighty matter.

Then mobile technology arrived, and piece by piece the load started to diminish as more and more could be digitised, and prepared in place ahead of time. A USB stick filled with PowerPoint slides combined with a digital projector, wiped put much of the necessity for physical notes for the lecturer. Those same slides made available on the institution's intranet, available to every student, wiped out the need for both parties to carry handouts. Bit by bit, textbook on Laptop, then on iPhone or PDA has chiselled away at the need to carry textbooks.

Slowly but surely the amount of weight necessary to haul around, to learn at a physical university has begun to fall. Unfortunately, that fall has now started to arrest.

Laptops are not going to get much smaller without a new interface modality. Everyone carries one about at higher education in most places. There's some score of WAP enabled mobile phone as well, and an increasing plethora of other gadgets, which tech companies are eternally trying to sell to students. The combined sales pitches are working, and with the steady growth of AR as a medium, display units of esoteric designs are beginning to be added to the list.

We are beginning to build back up to the situation where everyone is carrying far too much once again. This time its too many gadgets, small expensive pieces of technology that interlink in emerging body-area networks. If this trend should continue, and there is no reason to believe that it won't, students in particular will end up carrying so much around, that they will be worse off than when it was simply heavy textbooks.

What we need really, is more consideration to integrating devices together, such that instead of having five gadgets for five slightly different tasks, there is one unit that does all, and more besides. This is the old paradigm of the PC: one device for all functions, and it seems to be becoming increasingly lost in the rush to embrace the new order.

So much so, that ultimately the separation between devices which, although networked, each individually take up physical space on the person, is going to become too much for any one person to carry.

That, is just plain ridiculous.

Staff Comments

 


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