Public/Private Convergence: devices, information, and connectedness.

Pukehina Beach is a strip of sand-dune lined coast in the Bay of Plenty where several of my wife’s uncles and aunties live year-round.  We recently packed up our family and drove down there for a four-night stay, and with naked eyes we could see the outline of the stricken container-ship Rena stuck on the Astrolabe Reef near to Motiti Island, leaking oil into the sea.  On our first night there i took some pictures with my phone and shared them on Instagram, pictures like this one:

The sheltering sky and the lemonade waves alighting on the sand.

On the first morning of our stay i went with my daughter for a walk along the beach.  The tide was high, so the waves were breaking close to us and fizzing their salty lemonade wash through our feet and right up to the edge of the dunes.  In a moment of carelessness, while holding my daughter’s hand as we jumped out of a rushing white tongue of bubbling wave-froth, my mobile telephone popped out of my pocket and landed in the water.  Instantly, instantly, it was gone, it was simply taken in by the champagne of the ocean and it disappeared.  The force of the retreating waves was tumbling football-sized rocks and large pieces of driftwood.  After cussing loudly at the sky, i removed my trousers and dug like a lunatic into the wet sand beneath the water, searching for the phone… but it was gone.  At the low tide i returned with a stick, and not without some hopefulness, but there was absolutely no trace whatsoever of the device, which had probably been drawn down fairly quickly deep into the sand.

The purpose of this post is severalfold:

  1. Grief: the depth of distress and grief that i felt at being disconnected was palpable.  In an instant i had become cut off from my work email, from my personal and my professional Twitter networks, from the ability to send text-messages to anybody, from being able to take a phone call from work if somebody needed anything from me.  In short, i’ve developed a strong dependence on being connected, and on being connected all the time, and through multiple channels.
  2. Embarrassment: losing my work-provided mobile phone was really embarrassing, not least because i needed to get back up and running quickly, because we have two-year lease cycles and i wasn’t close to the point of being able to break the lease without penalty, and because the release of an updated version of the phone was imminent, so there would be scope for the unscrupulous to question the extent to which the loss of the device was an accident!
  3. Convergence: once my emotional response started to fade i started thinking about public/private convergence, and that the lifestreaming and real-time nature of our private-life social relationships has a sense of convergence with our working-life event streams, though they still tend to be dominated by email.
  4. Lock-In 1: when we returned home i tried hard to use another brand of smartphone, principally because it was available immediately without presenting an unplanned cost to my employer.  This other phone was adequate for all the traditional work basics, in that it was capable of basic integration with enterprise email and calendar systems, important contact and telephone-book details adequately, and worked as a telephone.  However, it was really clunky and its Twitter client was horrible and there was no Instagram client available and the web browser was deficient.  i’d become locked into a particular vendor ecosystem, so now, now that i have another identical replacement for my old now-in-the-sea phone, i’m planning to reduce my dependence upon this ecosystem.
  5. Lock-In 2: the positive side of lock-in is that when the new replacement handset arrived i simply connected it to my desktop computer and synchronised it and there, within just a few minutes, was the spirit of my old phone restored into a brand-new body, a body with the same name as the old phone, the same mobile applications, the same music, and the same photographs.  i had to re-enter a few new passwords, but i lost nothing save for a few photographs taken on the beach, the last of which never made it off the old handset, because it was taken only about sixty seconds before it was engulfed by the sea.

From an architectural perspective, there is something change-friendly about the separation of layers involved between the content, the applications, the mediation layer afforded by the desktop synchronisation/backup, and then the operating system and the physical handset itself.  Although this really isn’t any kind of loose coupling (because everything was on the phone itself), there is an abstract sense in which there are parallels here with virtualisation.

i’m glad to have the old phone back, albeit in a brand-new body.


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