IT Phone Home

Somewhere, on a old PC, gathering dust in my attic, is a Microsoft Windows CE presentation from over five years ago, which shows how mobile computing will revolutionise our lives. This was of course in the days before the Palm and The Pocket PC but Microsoft, in conjunction with the Ford Motor Company, imagined that today’s Focus or Mondeo would have email and Outlook in as much an integrated part of the car’s entertainment system as the stereo and perhaps the mobile phone.

An in-car monopoly that didn’t quite happen, as mobile phones and PDAs became portable gadgetry and we found we no longer needed a separate and expensive mobile telephone number for the car.

Where driving is concerned, I rarely use the car, preferring my motorcycle and all the risks that go with it. No congestion charge, reliable parking and predictable appointment times. I also use my mobile phone, hands free of course and only to take calls, which invariably cause me to pull over because of the noise or shout “I’m on the bike – talk later”.

On December 1st, it will become an offence to hold and operate a mobile device while driving, or to use a device, even if it is fixed in a cradle, for sending or receiving data. This finally ends the dream of in-car and on the move communications because it includes emails, text messages, picture messages and accessing Computer Weekly.Com on the Internet. Try using your phone without a hands-free kit in a manner that interferes with the proper control of the vehicle and you can be fined £30 and charged with careless or dangerous driving.

From a motorcyclist’s perspective, this isn’t such a bad idea as in London today, you have to develop a sixth sense for dealing with mobile phone users. Normally, these are very easy to spot. Approaching from behind and even without seeing the driver, there is a definite signature to a person’s driving when they are on the phone, from a slight telltale weaving to an almost complete loss of attention. To be honest though, as a society, we have now taken our cars so much for granted that there is no end to what we will try to do in them while we are driving.

From the vantage point of a motorcycle in the morning, one sees people eating their breakfast with both hands and drinking hot coffee, and using the rear-view mirror to apply mascara in the fast lane of the motorway. More unusual but steadily increasing, is using a laptop keyboard while overtaking, watching TV, making notes with the hand which isn’t holding the mobile phone and using the elbows to steer, the list appears endless and from the direct experience of knowing an IT Director who drove his BMW into a motorway bridge, each inattention kills on a regular basis.

If we leave aside the other habits, it’s the brutal pressure of work and the technology, which facilitates this on a 24*7 basis, which is most commonly putting lives at risk. The problem though, is that for a £30 fine, the Government isn’t going to change a collective behaviour other than make drivers more circumspect about waving their hands around or keeping their wireless laptops open on the passenger seat, which will force them to turn their heads ninety degrees to the side in order to read their email on the move.

The truth of the matter is that we are addicted to our technology in a world where movement rarely exceeds 10 Mph in the cities and frequently less on the motorways. The future is one where we will find more communications and entertainment technology jammed into tomorrow’s cars as people spend more of their time, trapped in their cars and living between the miseries of the commuting day.


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